Olympic Dreaming: Aerial Work Ahead
Thursday, August 21, 2008

Seeing chalk clapped out of grips, feeling the sweat on my palms while a gymnast flips above the beam, hearing that horrible floor music again... nostalgia has hit me flat on, that every fourth year disease that taunts me to get off my bum and attempt flips and aerials, splits and somersaults despite my non-Olympic age.

I'm 43, I really shouldn't be doing aerials; I could break something, pull something, land on my head. Yet there I was last Tuesday, on an empty dance floor at the gym, practicing aerials.

There's some sort of gravitational pull, like those tides that bring in the grunion on full moon nights, that sweeps me back to the days of Olympic dreams—the days of dreams that were never realized. Strange to think that I never competed in the Olympics. Strange to think that I really didn't even get all that close, what with my torn tendons and ten casts and a penchant for falling off the beam more often than not. When I was a competitor the Olympics never really felt that far off, yet anything short of being there is as far away as the moon.

But I suppose it's better to dream than not to. So many of mine have become reality, and I'm thankful for those casts being in the past and having moved on to writing—a non-injury occupation. But I still think it would be fun to do an aerial again.

I remember how I learned the first time. We had just moved to the house on San Vicente Blvd and it had a long runway of a family room. I'd start at the sliding glass doors and speed across the room, then fling a cartwheel into the air, my arms tucked tightly to my chest and simply hope for the best. I remember my knees scrubbed red from the carpet because I was too stubborn to put a hand down. I had just started taking gymnastics at the time, so didn't really know the word \"technique\": my technique was speed, hope and a disdain for injury. That's the kind of gymnast I was—crazy. But eventually, that carpeted runway was my aerial heaven. I'm sure I showed that trick to all the neighbors and more.

I must still be. Crazy. Since I really want to re-live this trick—even if it's a measly one that you learn in gymnastics 101. Handstands get so boring. So I'll keep you posted and let you know my aerial progress. Here's where I'm at today.

  • Can still do a nice cartwheel, and that's important; it's the foundation of a side aerial. (A side aerial is a cartwheel without hands...)
  • Need a bit more middle-split flexibility, so will work on that...
  • Fairly weak left thigh muscle, so will be doing some major legwork for propulsion—and if I'm smart, I won't only work on my left thigh...
  • Am really only about half way there. Sort of pathetic. But I am 43. Willing to keep dreaming. By the way, did you see the 33 year-old gymnast who is still vaulting with the best of them? Ah, but that's a whole different post altogether!