It still makes me smile to think about my mom yanking up the bottom of her calf-length, skin-tight stone-washed denim skirt (yes, it was the 80’s) and running down a tall set of bleachers to tend to me while I screamed out “Mama!” after dislocating my elbow.
It was my first gymnastics meet. And it was the last meet on the schedule which allowed gymnasts to submit scores to qualify for the state meet. I was on the fast track to competition, my coach encouraging my mom and future stepfather to keep me on the team by lowering the fees. He believed in my potential, and so did my parents. With four other young girls to take care of, toting me to and from classes three nights a week and often on Saturdays proved taxing on everyone. They knew I could do well, and they knew how much I loved the sport, so they did their best to help me succeed.
After the painful ambulance ride to the hospital, and after repeated failed attempts to put the elbow back in the socket without sedating me completely, the ER staff finally put me to sleep and took care of business. As a fourth grader, this was more physical pain than I’d ever experienced.
Donning a brace and sling, I went back to school on Monday and tried to learn how to become a leftie for a while. I got frustrated by my own inabilities as well as the pain I experienced when doing the physical therapy exercises prescribed by my doctor, a sports medicine specialist who promised I’d be ready to go again in six weeks.
I didn’t want to go again, at least not to any gymnastics meets. I was pretty scared. I told my mom I wanted to quit competing. She let me know that was not an option. I’d qualified for the state meet the day I dislocated my elbow, despite a laughable vault mount and catastrophic beam dismount. Age had given my mom enough experience and wisdom to know that if she let me quit, I’d probably look back and regret giving up on something I loved and had worked so hard for.
After pulling the poor, pitiful Bethany routine for a few weeks, I finally sucked it up and realized that I wasn’t getting out of this one, and I’d better attain a better attitude. I returned to practice, allowed to do conditioning and minimal work with the team until cleared by my doctor. There were times when my arm felt like a rubber band stretched way too far, not snapping back the way it should have. To aid in the recovery process, my stepdad even crafted me my own full-length balance beam to practice on at home.
I made it to the state meet, and even though I didn’t win any ribbons, I had a great experience that I’ll always be grateful for. If I hadn’t forced myself to do the painful work of recovery, I wouldn’t have been able to smile and laugh along with my teammates, and that Gym World leotard wouldn’t be folded amongst the other memorabilia in my storage room. If I’d bypassed the pain, I would’ve missed the moment that made it worthwhile. And that’s just how life works.