today, for the first time, i did a handstand in the middle of the room without the wall behind me. i had a girl i had never met spotting me. her name is catherine. we had been told to choose a partner of equal build and equal sweatiness, and we were perfect together. her beautiful self was pouring with sweat, and we were of the few that raised our hands with R asked us who was scared.
she shook like a leaf as she went skyward, but skyward she went.
and as i raised up, i knew again what it felt like to fly. it’s amazing that we don’t think ourselves capable of flight, for human flight already exists.
after the handstand, catherine let me down as gently as she could and my body’s instincts allowed my knees instead of my feet to thud to the ground first. my heart dropped, as i am still sustaining a knee injury which has lasted for several months.
last Tuesday, i almost fell face first while dancing. the person i was dancing with apologized profusely. i hugged him and told him, but if we don’t take risks in dance, then why should we dance? when people tell me i am an innovative dancer, it’s a huge compliment. but i told J last night, the biggest compliment i have ever received about dance had nothing to do with my ability or aesthetic. a girl came up to me some months ago and told me that no matter what, whether i am dancing or not dancing, i look like i am having a great time. and that means more to me than anything.
we push ourselves every day. the limit of our bodies is the limit imposed by our minds. the lighter i believe i am, the lighter i become.
i read this article today, and i felt this extraordinary power from the thoughts that it invoked. Gold medalist Nastia Liukin, after her fall and after not making it to the Olympic team, wrote this online:
Thank you to the 18,000 people that gave me a standing ovation tonight. I will remember this moment for the rest of my life.
Not a negative word, not a complaint, but just gratitude. It fills me with this incredible awe of the human spirit. The article is below, and a video I found of her incredible bravery.
By Christine Brennan, USA TODAY
Why we love the Olympic Games is why some can’t stand the pressure of getting to them. Yet every four years, they try, over and over again.
Dara Torres makes it look so easy; she has been to the Olympics five times: 1984, 1988, 1992, 2000 and 2008, and if she finishes in the two top tonight in Omaha, she will make her sixth team, a record for a U.S. swimmer. She had made three of those Olympic teams before budding 17-year-old superstar Missy Franklin was born.
On Sunday, in the same half-hour that Torres — a 45-year-old, 12-time Olympic medalist — qualified third-fastest in the 50-meter freestyle at the 2012 U.S. swimming trials, 22-year-old 2008 Olympic women’s gymnastics all-around gold medalist Nastia Liukin thudded to the mats, face first, when her hands gave way on the uneven bars, which had always been one of her specialties.
That very same evening, 31-year-old swimmer Anthony Ervin returned after a 12-year absence to make the U.S. team in the men’s 50 freestyle, while 18-year-old gymnast Rebecca Bross, competing with a gruesome scar snaking along her right kneecap, made three mistakes on the bars, including one devastating fall, to ensure that she would not be going to London.
We think everything’s possible at any age these days. Women giving birth in their late 40s or early 50s. A former president, George H.W. Bush, sky-diving to celebrate his 85th birthday. Tom Watson nearly winning the British Open in 2009 at 59. Pitcher Jamie Moyer winning major league baseball games in his late 40s.
And, Torres perhaps on the verge of making another Olympic team 28 years after she made her first.
Before she arrived in Omaha for the trials, she said in a phone interview that she couldn’t feel better — or more uncertain — about what she was about to do. Those two contrasting thoughts made perfect sense to her.
“I feel pretty good,” she said. “I have no idea how I’m going to do. I have had some good meets and some not-so-good meets. But I’m going to be the best I can possibly be and I know age is my ally.”
After qualifying for tonight’s final, Torres was appropriately pleased. “It’s a totally different approach than I had when I was 17, at my first Olympics. It’s much tougher. People said I was middle-aged at 41, but I’m really, really middle-aged now.”
Even though she has hardly had it easy, undergoing intricate shoulder and knee surgeries after her three silver-medal-winning performance at the Beijing Games, Torres is everything that the “older” gymnasts could not be. Even though they are less than half Torres’ age, they found themselves betrayed by time and their bodies in a sport that often places elite athletes on the discard pile before they graduate from high school.
A 13-minute span Sunday night in San Jose was especially devastating to two of the sport’s recent stars. Liukin, attempting a late comeback after enjoying the spoils of victory for several years after Beijing, gamely continued with her routine after her jarring full-body slam when her hands couldn’t hold onto the bar. She finished proudly, never shedding a tear. Later, she performed a flawless balance beam routine and then sent off members of the 2012 Olympic team — the team she did not make — with words of support and wisdom.
Gymnastics is part sport, part high-wire act, and Liukin was not the only gymnast who fell Sunday night. After Bross’ third miscue, her coach, Valeri Liukin — Nastia’s father — told her it was time to stop, and it was then that her hopes to make an Olympic team ended, likely forever. Bross has a bushel-barrel of world championship medals but had never made an Olympic team, hampered by injuries in 2008 and again this time. Because gymnastics favors the tiniest, youngest, most nimble bodies, Bross is almost certain to never have another chance.
It’s by the nature of what they do, trying for the pinnacle of their sport every four years, not every year, that Olympians develop a stunning sense of perspective. And so it was with Liukin.
“I was at the peak of my career four years ago,” she said, “and if anybody would have ever told me in 2008 that you would have been competing in the 2012 Olympic trials, I probably wouldn’t have believed them.”
Just being there, it turns out, was a victory in itself.