A view from the Balance Beam

Every four years we are blessed to have the Olympic Games.  Friday, July 27th is the Opening Ceremony for the 2012 Olympics from England.  Athletes at their finest competing on the world stage to see who is the best.  It is a tradition and ritual that I have come to anticipate every four years.  We learn about the trials and tribulations of these athletes and the sacrifices their parents and family have made to allow them this opportunity. For me, I will be glued to the television set as much as I can to see the big events.

I was a self-taught gymnast from a very young age.  I saw Olga Korbut on TV at the 1972 Olympic Games as she contorted her body on the balance beam. Everything I saw, I recreated in the front yard.  My dad built me a makeshift balance beam so I could practice. When I got to high school, I competed against girls who had the benefit of taking lessons for years.  I realize now how blessed I was back then having the talent given to me by Spirit.  I saw something and I tried it and and I never had anyone tell me that I couldn’t do anything. I spent 25+ years coaching kids in the sport and produced some top level athletes, always letting them know that they had everything inside of them to be their best.

So as I look forward to the Olympics, I thought I would share some life lessons from the eyes of a gymnast.

The Olympic rotation starts on the vault.  The gymnast runs as fast as she can, hits a board and tumbles through the air, landing on her feet, oftentimes with a blind landing.  What a lovely metaphor for how many of us live our life.  If we keep running forward we can propel ourselves higher.  We can twist and turn in the air and as we land on our feet, like a gymnast, we must “stick” our landing.  A gymnast is judged on their execution, their height off the table, the distance they landed from the table and how well they land.  And in the end, often like we do, a gymnast throws her arms up in the air, waiting for that score, that validation of a good job.  Sometimes it’s good and sometimes not so good.  Humans judge.  That’s just what we do.  Ultimately in the end, it’s knowing that we did our best in that one shot called life.

Next event up is the uneven parallel bars.  Back in my days of competition, the bars were set close together and we would do things called “beating the bar” where we would hit the low bar just below our hip bones to use it like a catapult.  Trust me, it hurt…A LOT!  Nowadays, the bars are set so far apart so the gymnast can swing easily between them.  This event is our lesson in faith.  The routine is filled with swinging and lots of releasing.  No matter how many times you have practiced the routine, you need faith that you will recatch the bar.  At this year’s Olympic Trials, 2008 all-around Olympic champion, Nastia Liuken was trying for a comeback as she competed to make this year’s Olympic team.  Nastia is an amazing gymnast and is best known for her bar routines.  Her routine is packed with difficulty with lots of twisting, swinging and major release moves.  Well this wasn’t her day as she performed her routine, as she has done a thousand times, she went for a major release move, completely missed the bar and landed flat out, face first on the mat below.  That’s a good 10-12 feet for a free fall!  Clearly shaken, she knew she had just seen her Olympic hopes go down the drain.  The lesson here was what she had to do from this point forward…finish her routine.  She stood up and looked at her father, who happens to be her coach, as if to say, “I need your help”.  He picked her up by the waist and put her back on the high bar so she could finish the routine.  Just because we have faith, it doesn’t mean life always turns out the way we want it to.  Sometimes we need to pick ourselves up off the ground, ask for help so we can finish what we started.

Onward to the balance beam.  Our lesson here is the lesson of, what else could it be but balance.   This is my favorite piece of apparatus as it was my specialty and back then, it was wood.  Now this 4″ aluminum framed equipment is padded and has much more flexibility than wood.  At four feet off the ground, you don’t want to slip and fall, or worse yet, straddle the beam during a fall.  The gymnast has 90 seconds to mount, perform their routine and then dismount.  While you are up there, it seems like a lifetime.   There are many times when a gymnast has a “balance check” on a landing.  They may just wiggle a bit to get their feet aligned again. Better to have a balance check than a fall as the deductions are much more severe.  As we walk the balance beam of our life, we will find points when we need to perform a “balance check” in order to go forward with the next move.  We don’t always have to fall, just check in to see if we are aligned with our goals.  One of the mandatory requirements on the balance beam is to perform a full turn on one foot.  As simple as that might seem, if you know physics, it’s not so easy to spin around 360 degrees and stay in one spot.  The foot tends to drift as it rotates.  It requires a truly aligned body standing high on the ball of the foot to complete the task.  If you are misaligned, you will spin out of control.

And finally we finish on the floor exercise.  Within 90-seconds a gymnast typically packs in four large tumbling passes, leaps, jumps, turns and dance elements.  Kind of like our life.  Packing in as much as we can in as little time as possible.  We twirl and dance our way around things, oftentimes tumbling through, feeling as if we are performing one required element after another.  Even in the evolution of gymnastics, the artistry has disappeared from the floor exercise routine as the difficulty levels have increased and the required elements have now become the focus.  As we add another flip or twist each year, the flow of the routine is interrupted.  And this is where we learn the lesson of the flow of energy.  As much that is required of us to do needs to flow with the beauty and grace of who we are.  If we can remember to add a little bit of ourself into our routine, we will walk through our life with grace and dignity and we will grow beyond our belief.  When we lose ourself in the routine of our day to day life, we tumble through life, just fulfilling the requirements.

So as you watch the Olympic games, I hope you see a bit of yourself in each athlete.  They are an athlete on a field, a track or in an arena but you are an athlete in the game of life.  Allow your natural talents to shine through.  Be at your best every day.  Bring your A-Game.  And most of all be humble and grateful knowing that your talents come from a  higher Source and are meant to be used for the highest good.

Enjoy the Games!

1 thought on “A view from the Balance Beam”

  1. Priscilla….this is fantastic! So much wisdom in this blog…I love it. I especially like the lines, “If we can remember to add a little bit of ourself into our routine, we will walk through our life with grace and dignity and we will grow beyond our belief. When we lose ourself in the routine of our day to day life, we tumble through life, just fulfilling the requirements”. That is a great reminder. Thank you.



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