Friday, March 18, 2011

The Backyard Balance Beam

Back in the early 1970s the Russian gymnasts were inspiring young girls across the world with their skills and abilities. Olga Korbut was changing the face of gymnastics with her fabulous moves on the uneven parallel bars and the balance beam. Olga had inspired (so it seemed) every girl in my school to want to become a gymnast, and I was no exception. I got involved in all the gymnastic events at school and could even do a back handspring (with some help). I was terrified of the vault, and couldn’t do it in practice, but when it came time to show off my skills during a showcase for parents, I managed to make it over the horse and without landing flat on my face.

In 1976, Olga Korbut again inspired us to do more difficult tricks on the balance beam. I must have hounded my father into making a beam for me. He sanded and varnished a piece of wood, and put it up in our back yard near by bedroom window. My beam was the standard four inches wide, and probably about three feet of the ground.

While Olga was doing back flips and crazy back bends on the beam, I was honing my skills with a full turn, a shoulder roll, and some other fabulous moves that certainly would help get me into the Olympics one day.

During practice at school, I learned how to do cartwheels on the beam and a dismount that was a no-handed round off. This move was quite simple for me, and I wanted to show it off to my friends and cousins one day from my own backyard balance beam.

I kicked off my sneakers and hopped up on the beam while explaining what I was going to do. I gracefully moved to the end of the beam and prepared for the most fabulous dismount that they would ever see in person (and not on TV). I moved my arms around, and my feet followed.

All of a sudden, the momentum stopped and I was in the air suspended parallel to the ground for what seemed to be an eternity. I looked around at the faces while I was in the air looking something like Wylie Coyote when he runs off the cliff when chasing the Road Runner.

They all had their mouths open and I was splayed out in mid-air. And then all of a sudden, gravity took over and SPLAT. I landed flat on the lawn. Arms extended, legs straight out, and you could hear the WOOOSH of air come out of my lungs. The audience all held their breath and looked down on me lying on the ground. I sucked in a big breath and they all sighed. When I finally could breathe, we all started to laugh.

The only thing I can say about that incident, was thank God my mother didn’t see my fabulous dismount, because she would have had my father sawing the legs off that balance beam faster than you could hum the first few bars of the USSR’s national anthem.

1 comment:

  1. I believe this balance beam was the prototype for the one my dad made up on Stokes Hill. Unfortunately his modifications were not to spec becoming too high and the beam too short. It was a good place for the cat to perch and lick its paws...