Illustration by Jan Igoe
As someone who prefers to chew gum while seated, I didn’t want to miss a minute of the Olympics. Especially women’s gymnastics and those little cannonballs who think the laws of physics are just suggestions.
As a kid, I took acrobatics. That’s like gymnastic kindergarten, where you learn to do cartwheels and flips—the basic stuff that most kids can master without hospitalization. But it didn’t take long to find out how special I was. All the other girls were shorter than my legs, which took off wherever they felt like going when I was upside down and they knew I couldn’t see them. The other girls had little, tiny legs that followed directions.
But I persisted and finally mastered a one-handed cartwheel with all my appendages going along for the ride. The next step was an aerial, where the cartwheel is so fast, you don’t need the ground at all. Like magic, you’re airborne.
I moved all the chairs out of the dining room and propped the back door open, giving me a clear shot from the porch to the living room, where I would attempt my first gold-medal stunt. The other girls were doing it, so I thought gravity might be my friend, too.
Out on the back porch, I revved up like the Road Runner and motored into the living room, fearlessly launching into “Look, Ma, no hands!” mode. But, just as my legs got over my head, a dubious little voice deep in the backseat of my brain stopped the world with a question. I remember being upside down with all my disorderly limbs suspended in midair when it said, “Hey, genius, does the name Isaac Newton ring a bell? Put your hands down before you crash.” And I did, taking out my mother’s favorite lamp in the process.
The doctor coaxed my dislocated shoulder back into place, but there was no emergency room for the lamp, which made Mom even crankier than finding her house converted into a gymnasium. The next day, she signed me up for flute lessons.
Eventually, I got into distance swimming, where beanstalks are welcome and it’s harder to break things—but I’d still rather watch gymnastics. And I’m very defensive of those tiny, flipping females who should be filing flight plans before their floor routines. I’ll do battle with anyone who doesn’t show respect.
During the Olympics, I kept a defibrillator charged in case one of Simone Biles’ BFFs came crashing through the TV set needing medical attention after three half-twisting something-or-others with a double back-flop.
And any time an announcer said, “No one in history has ever completed 19 aerials in layout position before, but Gabby’s middle toe was slightly crooked on the landing. That’s a two-tenths deduction,” I wanted to shove my fist through the screen and strangle him with my swim goggles.
If I scored gymnastics, those girls would get extra points for every limb that was still attached on the landing. Three more points if their leotards don’t rip. Extra points for being utterly adorable. And some more points for being 4 feet tall and fearless.
Although I love them, it’s a good thing the Olympics are over. It’s been exhausting sitting here lifeguarding the gymnasts. And I’m out of gum.
JAN A. IGOE was never discovered by Bela Karolyi, but if he needs swim lessons, he’s always welcome to call. Share the fun at HumorMe@SCLiving.coop.