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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Lessons Off the Court: Junior High Trauma

“Okay, stand back here, run five paces, position your hands like this, flip and roll.” The volleyball court had been covered with gymnastics mats, with one large rolled mat about one-fourth of the way inside the back border. Did I know a single student in my Physical Education class that actually liked tumbling? Nope, not a single one. We did it, because we had to in order to pass P.E. for the school term. Some students were more coordinated than others so their dislike was more along the lines of messing up their hair than the fear of crashing and burning in front of everyone. “Remember, tuck your head before the forward roll.”

The first girl ran, positioned her hands too close and didn’t make the flip cleanly. No way could she do the forward roll out of the flip; she just sat slumped down on the mat. The teacher asked her to stand by the mat that was rolled up and showed her that her hands should be straight down from her shoulders so that the hands aligned with the shoulders. They would not be in the way then. As she demonstrated this, we all moved our hands to see how far apart we needed to have them when they hit the mat. Too far out and we’d not likely have the muscle push to flip our bodies over the mat.

The first girl tried again and was successful this time. The rest of us just tensed up while we watched each girl before us hit and flip. Most did not have a clean forward roll so we would not worry about the finish. We’d just concentrate on getting our hands positioned for the flip. It was not the Summer Olympics, it was just P.E. class and surviving the hour was all the 14-year-olds in my class cared about at this point. Form and finish were just not an issue.

Fear, on the other hand, was a very real issue with some of the girls. I was among their number. It was far more than the fear of failure and the ridicule that was sure to follow. It was fear of getting hurt, though I had no idea just how badly someone could get hurt in this drill. I had a sprained or broken ankle in mind, figuring I might not land evenly coming out of the flip. One by one the line in front of me advanced and the number of butterflies attacking my stomach increased, exponentially, with each step I moved closer to my turn. I could tell my friend, MJ was totally petrified so I was worried for her, too.

MJ was the friend who‘d entered the JFK 50-mile walk for America with me the previous year. She had talents in academics and music. She was very slender, could run but, coordination was not really something her adolescent limbs had yet mastered. I was more coordinated but a chubby adolescent so had to work harder at anything requiring body lift. I could position my hands correctly, no problem, but could my muscles propel my body over the rolled up mat and through the flip? I didn’t know. I reasoned that since I could do a handstand, I should be able to do this, shouldn’t I?

When there were no more students in front of me, my mouth suddenly dried up like the salt flats in Wyoming. I tried to swallow but couldn’t. That blasted whistle blew, signaling the teacher’s impatience. I took a deep breath, hoping to steady my racing heart, and stepped off. Focus, focus, I told myself while counting off five running steps. My pre-flip form would not have impressed judges, had there been any besides the teacher, because my hands sprung to the flip position as soon as my legs  began to move. They were more than ready to do their job when I finished step 5. Hands flat on the mat, flip over and land. My relief at having landed evenly distracted me and left me a bit confused as to the next step. I started to stand instead of crouch but the snickers alongside the mat cause me to re-focus. Quickly, I tucked my head and did a jerky forward roll to the finish. I made it!

I have no idea if MJ’s thoughts were along the same lines as mine before her flip and roll or not. I knew she was afraid but her pleas to be excused from the drill fell on deaf ears. MJ never mentioned anything about her own thoughts as we walked home from school; when she could speak, she, mostly, talked about the pain.  

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