Day 6 of my 21 day Writing Challenge
This writing challenge is taking my heart and sitting it down in an empty theater and playing the movie of my life. I go into the theater to begin each day’s project and ideas begin to flow like trailers of upcoming releases. For some of these clips, I decide the movie can wait….at least for now. Others demand to be viewed. This is one of those.
I landed with both feet firmly planted “into” the floor and raised my hands triumphantly to the sky. It was only then that the sound of the 1500 or so people in the audience drifted into my awareness. Applause and cheers and appreciation rained down onto and into my consciousness and heart!
I trotted off the floor exercise mat to the swarm of my ASU teammates and coaches who gave me high 5’s, hugs and pats on the back. How did I ever get so fortunate to experience this? “I wish Mike was here.”
Mike and I met in high school. We both tumbled and found ourselves in a gymnastics class with other wanna-be gymnasts. It turned out that we were both in ROTC and basically just wanted to do our thing, have fun doing it and maybe leave our mark on the world.
The thing I liked and still appreciate about Mike is his genuine desire to do what’s right. That doesn’t mean he didn’t prank people and have fun at their expense, he did but there was an innocence and usually a lesson to it. He was just facilitating in a safe environment what life was going to do to us in the harsh real world.
We decided to join the gymnastics team, we did drill team in ROTC and he ended up getting me a job with him as a bus-boy and room service waiter (more pranks).
My then girlfriend was a gymnast and she liked him too, so we all hung out and there was no drama if he and I did stuff that didn’t include her.
We found out about this gymnastics event that would be held in Fort Collins, CO which was an hour or so north of Denver. Most of the big name gymnasts at the time would be there. It was a post 1980’s Olympic event and there was no way we were not going. (The USA boycotted the 1980 Olympics and the gymnastics community did a series of events around the country)
It was a competition but felt more like an exhibition and I remember looking forward to seeing Ron Galimore, Mario McCutcheon, Bart Conner and Jim Hartung perform live and the experience went beyond my expectations.
On the Greyhound bus back to Denver, we talked about how amazing Galimore’s vault was and how high he tumbled. We talked about how cool it would be to do what they were doing…touring the country doing gymnastics. As we got talked out, we reclined our seats and retreated to that place where dreams are forged. As I laid back, I could see myself as the next Ron Galimore! I could see myself being on the Olympic team and representing America and making my parents and family proud. Just as I was about to receive my Gold medal, the brakes of the bus screeched to a halt and and it was time to run to the 28 bus stop so we wouldn't miss the last bus of the night.
Mike, Ernest, Scott, Kent, myself and others on our high school gymnastics team would get a tiny taste of what the best in our sport experienced. We would root each other on as individually we executed a routine we all helped each other build. Our friends, family and the couple dozen other people in the stands would shower us with encouragement and appreciation as the meet would unfold. We didn’t experience a whole lot of winning as a team but we kept showing up to practice and we kept doing our best in competitions.
There is something to be said for athletes like us. Athletes who aren’t guaranteed some huge pay-day down the line. Athletes who love the challenge of taking their human frame and dipping it into the deep well of physical ability and, in combinations familiar and brand new, delivering strokes of strength, power, grace and flight. There’s a reason it’s called artistic gymnastics.
While at ASU, I met Ron Galimore, Bart Conner, Mitch Gaylord and others. I kept Mike in the loop as this crazy adventure unfolded but I didn't call him every time an achievement was crossed off the list. For one, it was too expensive to call long distance and two, I didn’t want it to seem like I was bragging. Mike was doing his own thing and definitely experiencing wins and he kept me abreast of his journey also.
Even now, as a father, grandfather, husband and more, he keeps me updated. We trained together, competed together, worked together, dreamed together. Mike is my boy and we are interconnected and will always be.
So yeah as I sat down amongst my college teammates at a real college meet against some of the best gymnasts in the country waiting for the judges to pass judgment, I thought of my high school teammate and wished he was there. I didn’t realize it then but I realize it now…in a way, he was there. It was him who spotted me on new tricks we would chuck in our high school gym. It was him who got me the job at the hotel which led to me being able to afford a few gymnastics classes. It was him who would listen and agree with my complaints. It was him whose mom would drive us to school in the morning so we didn’t have to wait in the cold for the bus. It was him who pulled a prank when I got too full of myself. It was him after a routine in high school who was waiting with my high school teammates to give me high 5’s and pats on the back. I carry him with me through those experiences.
That is the power we possess. Just as iron sharpens iron, every interaction we have with another human being can help equip them to slice through the fabric of life or handicap them into tearing it to shreds.
Before I finished writing this, I called Mike. I got his voice mail. I thanked him. I sent love to his wife and their kids and I told him, “I wish you were here brah!”