All this news about the athletes quitting and I’m thinking “seriously, quitters?” What’s going on? And then a memory is triggered.
I’m back at Troy High School on the gymnastic team. At seventeen, a perfectionist, almost 5’8”, 125 pounds [oh to be at least 135 pounds (and thinking this way remains a problem)], I am still quite limber and flexible, managing a sequence of handsprings and round-offs on the floor, but I suck at kips on the parallel bars and am quite unbalanced — on the balance beam. Nonetheless, with enough deductions, I do manage to win one competition.
It’s the afternoon after another loss to the Lowell High School team and our coach, a short fireplug of a woman, gathers us in the locker room to tell us the reason we keep losing is that we’re all fat. She shames us into losing weight to be more like Olga Korbut or Nadia Comaneci (like I can shrink to 4’11”?). Coach Newman even tapes a butcher block paper chart onto the gym wall to track our progress, or rather regression, for all to see. Game on! So after only a month, I take the gold in the weight loss competition having lost 30 pounds.
Ninety-five pounds now but I can’t manage a single cartwheel, much less take any steps (I’ve stuck a landing) to my classes without having to stop and rest. I grow depressed, lose my period, my boobs, some friends and am released from the team. I quit school (I’d actually earned enough units to graduate early ahead of my class — Winning!) and have to figure out a new routine for the rest of my life.
Oh, where was Naomi Osaka or Simone Biles (or any dependable adult) to show me the way?