Wednesday, November 12, 2008

retton: A

I went to dinner with my friend KK the other night and by chance we ended up sitting next to her friend who is currently enrolled in tumbling classes a stone's throw from my house. She completely loves it. She had no prior experience. It's a sign.

This brings us to part two of Gymnastics Tales.

1984. George Orwell's Julia was carrying on an illicit affair with Winston Smith under the totalitarian regime of Big Brother. This Julia was carrying on an illicit affair with gymnastics under the watchful eye of My Mother.

That year Mary Lou Retton struck gold in the Olympic All Around event and pretty much sealed the deal in my mind that gymnastics was the most awesome sport ever. I asked my mom about taking classes. A lot. No go. So instead I cobbled together my own at-home DIY gymnastics clinic. I subscribed to USA Gymnastics Magazine, cut out every photo of Mary Lou Retton and the 1984 women's and men's Olympic gymnastics teams from Newsweek, Time, People, Sports Illustrated etc. and tacked them to my wall and door. I practiced headstands daily. I stood with my back to my parents bed, jumped backward, bounced from a sitting position back into the air, onto the floor, and tried to stick the landing.

My friend Justine (see: "the tell tale twin") was similarly smitten. She even had the Mary Lou Retton Wheaties Box with Wheaties sealed, uneaten inside. I'm pretty sure she had that box, intact until Senior Year of high school

Justine was responsible for actually getting us as close to Mt. Olympus as I could possibly imagine: Her family purchased tickets for the Post Olympics Gymnastics Tour Chicago show at Rosemont Horizon.... And. Invited. Me. (Insert one thousand exclamation points.) There were no words.

No Mary Lou on the tour, but no matter, Julianne McNamara would be there. Julianne McNamara was basically the silver medal of Gymnastic celebrities. She won the first gold EVER in an individual women's event (uneven bars). And Justine and I agreed she was really pretty.

We went to the show, on a school night no less, and were appropriately star struck. We clutched our special edition programs (which I still have!) and stared at the team leaping and flipping around in a non-competitive environment. Just basically hanging out, doing flip-flops. No big deal. JUST MY DREAM.

All I wanted to do was hang out at school recess, hear the words, "Julia, do a flip flop!", smile, very shyly explain, "It's actually called a back handspring," waver, sigh, seem demure, and then bust out a back flip to the delight of my ten-year-old colleagues.

Instead, I jumped off swings in motion and practiced sticking my landings.

To tell you the truth, my memory of the actual individual performances at Rosemont Horizon is hazy at best. I was awestruck and overwhelmed. Humbled, even. The portion of the program I recall in completely lucid detail, however? Interludes with Paul Hunt: Gymnastics Comedian.

Paul Hunt was a competitive college gymnast in the 70s and to this day works as a gymnastics coach. In the 80s he also dressed up in tutus, bows, and barrettes, called himself "Paulette Huntsinova," and performed fake gymnastics routines with heavy-handed servings of horrible falls and twisted limbs. Most often he performed complicated tumbling sequences and landed directly on his face. All to the uproarious laughter of stadium crowds nationwide:

The crowd at Rosemont Horizon ate it up. Everytime he walked out for another solo segment, Justine and I were completely annoyed. We took gymnastics seriously. We soberly stared straight ahead at his wacky in-drag accidents muttering, "This sucks." We wanted all serious, medal winning, professional gymnastics, all night.

Watching the Paul Hunt footage many years later, I am totally guilty of laughing. 1984 Julia would have zero tolerance for this behavior.

I think 2009 is the year I'm gonna make my dream come true and take a tumbling course. At this point, if I can learn how to do a handstand for more than two seconds and not unintentionally fall directly on my face I will feel like a star.

For now, I just enjoy watching the perfect 10 floor routine I yearned to perform as a ten-year-old gal on the playground:

No comments: