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How Gymnastics Changed the Way I View My Disability

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I remember the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 like they happened yesterday. I remember being a young naive little 12 year old glued to the TV as the women’s USA gymnastics team went on to become the first team in history to win a gold medal in gymnastics. I remember the feeling I felt when watching these young women flip through the air so seamlessly. I was amazed and since then, I have never looked back and have never once denied my profound love for the sport.

In the months following the Olympic games, I “pretended” to be a gymnast like the Magnificent Seven. I would do a head roll from my sister’s bed using my trundle bed below hers as support and “flip off” the bed, landing on my butt of course because I couldn’t stand. I also pretended to do leaps and jumps on my sister’s bed like it was the beam. In short, I was totally and completely head over heels. Soon, there was a collection of Magnificent Seven books, Dominique Moceanu’s first autobiography, and the biggest and greatest surprise of my life, tickets to the John Hancock tour of champions! I was going to the Pete Maravich Assembly Center to go see both the men and women of the USA teams perform live and in person! This was a thrill for me.

I went with my friend Amber, who also became a gymnastics fiend after the 96 Olympics. We also both shared the same love for our all time favorite gymnast, Dominique Moceanu. My fondest memory of seeing the USA gymnastics team in person was when Amber and I shouted out her name and she turned around and smiled and waved at us. I think we thought we were the coolest 11 and 12-year-old kids in that arena because Dominique actually took the time to smile and wave at us. It makes me laugh when I think about it, but it was such a joyful moment for the both of us.

Shortly after the tour of champions, I discovered one of my heart’s truest loves; I found out that Louisiana State University had a gymnastics program! Starting in the winter months of 1997, I attended every home meet and was completely mesmerized. I thought it was so cool that these big superstar college girls could do what I’d seen on my television that previous summer. This is when my love affair with college gymnastics began, and I have yet to let it go, even though I am almost 30 years old, almost a whole decade older than the girls who are performing on today’s LSU squad. I still look at them as flying and flipping superstars, and I’m always amazed at their unique and uncanny abilities!

It is really hard for me to put my hardwired love for gymnastics into words, but I am going to try my best to explain it now, since that is the ultimate goal in writing this in the first place. Anyone who has ever met me in person, seen pictures of me, or has come across my Twitter and Facebook posts knows I am a normal happy person who lives a pretty normal life. However, my life is far from what most deem as “normal.” I was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at birth, which causes me to have to use a wheelchair to get around. While it is exhausting and sometimes tries my patience, I wouldn’t have it any other way; it’s the only life I know.

I know no matter how hard I try, I’ll never be able to live fully independently. Of course, at 30, this is an even more anxiety-provoking thought than it was just 10 years ago, but it is just something I have to accept. There are times when I would give anything to “feel” the feeling of being able to run around the block, to feel the powerful joy athletes feel when they win their first competition, to have that same thirst for victory. To add to these feelings, it is so weird because whenever I am myself in my dreams, I am always able-bodied. I am never physically challenged in any way. So, I know that thought always “stews” in the back of my mind, and of course it is only natural to be curious about how my life would be under different circumstances.

However, despite all of my naturally curious human emotions, I am beyond proud to say that the members of the LSU gymnastics squad have always been some of my heroes in life. They continue to show me that hard work pays off, as long as you have the faith and tenacity to continue with your life and your ambitions. They have also taught me that you have to keep going no matter what. No matter how badly it hurts, you have to keep continuing on in order to achieve your goals; there is no giving up no matter how badly life has set you back. If you keep going, you will be able to taste victory at the finish line. Hard work equals even greater satisfaction.

The LSU gymnastics team always serves as my inspiration to keep pushing forward with my life, no matter what may come of it. They are my rays of sunshine that appear after a monsoon. It brings joy to my heart when I am able to witness them performing on Friday nights January through April. I live the type of life in which the simplest things turn out to be the ones that make me the happiest, and the LSU gymnastics team has been such an integral part of my life for the past 18 years; flipping and flying through the air, doing things I can only imagine when I close my eyes at night.

Thank you to all of you from the bottom of my heart for providing my life with such happiness and joy, for continuing to push through even though the nagging of injuries. Thank you for reminding me of my overwhelming amount of strength, which lives at the root of my soul and even deeper in my heart. Above all, thank you for shining your special light when I needed it most! Keep working hard and never give up, because life is too short to leave behind a dimming light. So shine like I know you can! My love for all of you is incomprehensible and your impact one of never-ending kindness. You have provided my life with more meaning simply by being you — amazing athletes and even more impeccable people. Please know that your impact extends far beyond my reach. You are all so special, so beautiful and so wonderfully unique in a way no one else can claim. Always remember just how much you are valued.

Getty image by Sportpoint.

Originally published: February 20, 2018
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