I really enjoyed watching Gabby Douglas, the confident 16-year old American gymnast who brought home two gold medals. She had some disappointing moments, like finishing seventh on the balance beam, but she is the first American to win team and all-around gold in the same Olympics. Her captivating smile following nerves of steel moves is going to take her far in the realm of celebrity endorsements. Articles are already popping up outlining the marketing of the talented young teen.
Stories were told about how she surprised everyone with her standout performances. Just five months before the Olympics, Martha Karolyi, the coordinator of the women’s national team, did not think Douglas had what it took to be an Olympic winner. But Gabby doesn’t appear to be a girl deterred from achieving her goals. There had to be something very special and particularly focused in her desire to win or how else would her mother, Natalie Hawkins, stand to make the giant leap of sacrifice allowing her then 14-year old daughter to move 1,200 mies from Virginia Beach to West Des Moines, to train with an Olympic level coach and live with a family Gabby had never even met.
I certainly marvel at such physical capability, but I am even more impressed with the dedication, focus, and drive.
Watching Gabby and other outstanding athletes perform in front of audiences, rarely losing their cool, even after some devastating falls and bitter defeats, reminds me of one of my high school performances. I didn’t quite have Gabby’s poise!
My lifelong friend Beverly and I were in the same Sophomore P.E. class. For those of you who know either one of us very well you already know this story cannot end well. Neither of us were ever put in the athlete category and we were not taking a dance class, either–it was simply Sophomore P.E. Yet our assignment was to pair up, and self-choreograph and perform an interpretive modern dance. Sure. No problem.
Well, to the accompaniment of the Doors, The Crystal Ship, we worked out the details of our routine from our
studios bedrooms. Now the choice in music does play a part in our final humiliation performance. The song was from The Doors 1967 debut album and also the B-side of the number-one hit single, Light My Fire. We weren’t dancers, but we knew how to pick out music!
We practiced and did our best to match movement with music, moody and somber, summoning grace and courage to just get through this. Oh, and did I mention our attire? Well, that would be leotards. Of course! Every 15 year-old has the confidence to cavort around in front of their peers wearing skin tight leotards.
The day arrived. Do I remember it well, or is it merely that Beverly and I still talk about it as though it were yesterday. I do remember enough detail to tell you the story. The day had finally arrived. No more practicing. We were as ready as we were going to be…but something was not as envisioned. There was added activity in the gym. Were the BOYS in the gym? Oh NO! It had started to rain, and it was no longer just the other girls in our class–there was a much wider and more devastatingly embarrassing potential audience.
Let me help you picture this! What do you think happens to a room full of teens when one of the most popular songs of the day begins to sing out from across the room? Of course! All energy stops! It felt like we were all in slow motion as it became clear that both male and female eyes had shifted to the source of the music. And to the words of Jim Morrison they were additionally treated to the sight of two very musical, yet extremely self-conscious 15-year old girls, dancing with free spirited motion in some form out out-of-body self-consciousnesss.
Bev remembers we got a B for our effort. I don’t remember a thing about the grade. I don’t think I cared at that point. I also presume somewhere in the B came apologies from a teacher who could not possibly have expected anything better under the circumstances.
There are always going to be moments in our lives that are just a little bit humiliating. This, for me, was one of them.
And then today our precious Sophia started Kindergarten! She is so excited about being in the same school as her older cousin. She has looked forward to it all summer and even in the current desert heat she was fully prepared to walk away from her mommy and into what really was the unknown. She was ready and focused. And in my book, she was brave.
I’m having a difficult time with the fact that my personal time with her is going to be shortened by quite a bit! Her all-day Kindergarten schedule really cuts into my fun time! But the point is that she is ready. And in some way since she was born almost five years ago I have been looking forward to this day with her. This is her opportunity to shine and begin establishing her own thoughts, her own goals and disciplines–taking some big and necessary steps in independence.
I do cringe a bit that in leaving the safety of the nest we won’t be able to save her from every disappointment, defeat or humiliation–Oh may they be very small for years to come…high school IS a long way away!
I don’t care if she is ever a star athlete or achieves one whit of fame, but I’d love to see her develop the poise and confidence of our Olympic athletes. It would be a great asset in life to learn that disappointments are navigable and to turn challenges into achievable goals. And some day when she’s older, maybe before she goes into high school, I’ll share my story of embarrassment, but in telling it I will laugh uproariously at what seemed at the time to be a devastatingly critical moment– and then it passed.
I won’t tell her that Beverly and I are still just a little mortified when we think of it! She’ll have to learn some of these lessons all on her own.
“The purpose of learning is growth, and our minds, unlike our bodies, can continue growing as we continue to live “–Mortimer Adler
And if you’d enjoy a little flashback with me…THE Song. Hope you can breathe a little lighter, too. Debra