I placed 15th in the country at Junior Olympic Nationals (age 14). Then I began training for the next level, Elite, the Olympic level. I always dreamed of competing in the Olympics. I’m tall for a gymnast, but it didn’t matter. I thought I had a shot to make the U.S. National Team. Maybe I could make Olympic Trials, then get a chance to make the 1980 Olympic Team! Six months of hard training, learning new tricks, I could qualify for Elite. Maybe it would happen.
A few months later, I was 15. It was August. I had a crash in the gym. BAD CRASH. A new tumbling pass across the floor, round-off-backhandspring-JUMP-UP for a double back (2 flips backwards). I was in the air, tuck position, flipping, but suddenly I got lost (Where am I? The first flip? The second flip?). So I opened up–too early. CRASH! I hit the ground, WHACK!!!!! my knee hit my forehead. But it was more like – CRASH! WHACK!!!!! I was out.
Minutes later, I woke up with a GARGANTUAN MELON on my forehead. Oh, the throbbing! They brought me ice, made sure my neck wasn’t broke… My coach, Jim Fountaine (a former football coach), said: “Mitzel, go home. Take 3 days off.”
This was unsettling. I never took three days off. THREE DAYS was F-O-R-E-V-E-R-R-R-R-R. 😦 I played and re-played, over and over, for three long days what happened. I jumped in the air, started to flip–? I tried to break it down, figure out where, what, how, but my mind was blank. I felt confused at why I didn’t complete the double back. There was no answer. I guess I jumped up, lost control, and got amnesia.
When I returned to the gym – nerves fluttered through my mind and body. I told myself: You’re fine. You’re fine. Just practice like always.
But I wasn’t fine. I wasn’t fine every day for the next six weeks. I was afraid of the double back. And I developed a fear for any type of backward movement, on every event. The fear became a contagious disease. I started to run, then stopped. My coach yelled. I tried again. I did a round-off, and freaked out. I got super scared. I couldn’t remember how to do my tricks. I cried in the car and at home. I prayed, but nothing. For six weeks, I regressed and fell apart. I lost 70% of my skills. No one could help me. All I could do was dance and basic practice drills.
Finally, I was so far from the gymnast I’d been, I couldn’t take it anymore. I told my mom, “I’m going to quit.” It was hard to say it, but in the gym, I had nothing to look forward to. The coaches were extremely frustrated, I was depressed, and the struggle was just too much.
[Message #1 – Do NOT give up, Do NOT quit. Here’s why.] While my gymnastics career was dying, I had a horrifying realization that something else was much, MUCH worse. My mom came into my bedroom: Lisa, it is up to you to continue or not, but if you quit now, when you’re at your lowest, you will always wonder what would’ve happened if you stayed in it, fought harder. This didn’t help me much. I had fought my hardest. What more could I do? Then she added: If you quit, you will not get out of school early to go to practice, you will have to take P.E. class, you will not have nice leotards or team sweats, you won’t travel, you won’t compete. You will not be a gymnast or do those special things. You will be normal like all the other kids at school.
What? Normal? Like everyone else? This was ALARMING.
I went to bed, had terrible nightmares, and woke up. In the morning, I was terrified. If I was not a gymnast anymore…then who would I be? What would I do? Who would I be?
Well, I knew. I was a gymnast. I loved it and I could not quit.
[When you realize your greatest passion and your identity is being stripped from you, you understand that you must go through the struggle. Something good will come.]
(part 2 coming next…)
Reach, sweat, and believe,