Had the parents of the junior gymnasts forgotten these truths, they would have been forcibly reminded within ten minutes of the start of the annual club championships.
The 1&only daughter’s cohort began on the uneven bars. The first competitor missed her transition from the lower to higher bar and brought her routine to an abrupt end. By the time she had returned to the bench she was sobbing. Her upset continued. The girl sitting next to her put an arm around her. Her parents watched, but were forbidden from crossing onto the competition area to give her their succour. The coach remained in his scorer’s chair, waiting for the next competitor.
That second competitor completed her initial moves on the lower bar and struck out for the upper bar, but in a way that immediately felt unpractised, speculative. Whatever the reason, the young girl upended and fell, like a winged bird, to the mat. She wailed, as we all wanted to do. “My arm feels funny. What’s happened? I’m frightened.” Her father, seconds after the coach, did not respect the sanctity of the competition zone and went to her aid. An ambulance was called, a sling improvised and after a few minutes of comforting, the girl was lifted from beneath the apparatus.
Four girls left to perform. The coach asked them one-by-one to return to the bars and repeat the warm-up of ten minutes before. And then it was competition time again. First to perform after the interlude was the 1&onlyD.
Her routine involved six or seven maneouvres, all but one of which she had managed time and again, with increasing polish. The exception was the opening move, the upstart, which after months of practice she had finally achieved two weeks before the competition.
To complete the upstart she would need to attack the bar to create the momentum for the backward swing that could lift her body up. Logically, after seeing her classmate fall after a tentative move, attack would be the right approach. Emotionally, self-preservingly, a little caution could be understood.
The 1&onlyD pitched herself forward onto the bar, arcing first one way and then back. Up her body rose, bendy elbows struggling for an instant then snapping her atop the bar. Upstart achieved, the 1&onlyD rotated and launched for the upper bar, another swing, a shape held and then a dismount to the crash-mat. Arms up to salute the scorer. The audience clapped with relief, with admiration, and in our corner, pride.
The drama of the 1&onlyD’s bars performance may have affected her for the rest of the evening. Neither beam, nor floor routine went smoothly. But she picked up gold for the uneven bars.
The girl who had cried received a quiet word from the coach and went on to compete wholeheartedly in the remaining disciplines.
Little J, who fell, was kept in hospital overnight. Her arm was broken and dislocated. She came back to the gym the following week to see her classmates, collect get well cards and her competition participation certificate.
Wiry, resilient, persistent and brave.