The day that gymnastics struck terror into my heart was in 6th grade, when Mr. Cunion decided to have us do a tumbling unit for PE.
I come from a long line of weekend-couch potatoes. We didn’t do sports as a family, watch sports as a family, or pretend that sports existed.
We didn’t do water stuff since my dad didn’t swim. We didn’t join the country club because we were poor.
We didn’t do baseball stuff since my dad couldn’t run (he’d had polio).
We didn’t go to weddings, so we didn’t need to dance.
We didn’t hike except to school and back, and it was called walking.
We didn’t climb ropes, work out, do Jack La Lanne work-outs (my mom did, sometimes) or do tumbling.
We especially didn’t do tumbling.
I didn’t become a cheerleader and didn’t turn cartwheels on the beach for fun. Iowa beaches aren’t that inspiring.
We didn’t cheer for football games. Dad watched them alone in the living room with his two best pals, Pabst and Blue Ribbon.
I was stiff as a twelve-year old, having walked on flat feet for a dozen years, a girl with a perpetual backache.
So when it was my turn to do a forward somersault, my body wouldn’t curl up into a ball.
“Tuck your head and roll with your neck. Tuck! Tuck!” the teacher barked at me.
My head did not want to tuck. My neck did not want to roll. I tried to somersault from the top of my head. It didn’t work.
As others were advancing to backward somersaults, cartwheels, handstands, and back flips, I was still stuck at ground zero.
I practiced at home. All it did was make my head hurt more and make my face turn red.
What if my neck snaps? What if I become nauseated and puke?
Everyone else could do it. Why was it so hard for me?
I failed 6th grade tumbling, 7th grade tumbling, 8th grade tumbling, 9th grade tumbling, etc.
No one asked me to try out for cheerleading. But I did have to do the high jump in 9th grade for track and field day. It was my long inseam of 34 inches that got me volunteered for that. I made it over the bar once and fouled out on the second round. At least I made it once.
Looking back, I realize that tumbling is not a life skill, unless you are going to jump out of an airplane and need to tuck and roll when you hit the ground. Or if you want to become a stunt woman in Hollywood.
Here are some PE units that might have served me better.
- A dance unit. I think in all my grades of school, we did a dance unit twice.
- A hiking unit – never happened.
- A gardening unit – how to do safe maneuvers without straining your muscles.
- A swimming unit – oops – no pool.
- a unit on football rules (for future games and dates).
The aforementioned topics are life skills. I love to socialize by dancing, plus it’s a great cardio workout. Hiking is something most people can do at most ages, another social activity and more cardio.
Gardening is a work-out at any age. Lifting, lugging, bending, twisting, pulling yourself up and down, down and up as you weed, plant, dig and harvest.
And swimming?. Duh.
Never once have I needed to turn a somersault to dance, hike, garden or swim. Maybe swimming laps could use a somersault off the pool wall, but you can also just turn without going upside down.
Couldda Wouldda Shouldda
What was I afraid of? Oh, that’s right. That something would go wrong and I would become paralyzed for life.