“Toes pointed. Dip, swoop step. Dip, swoop, step. Now, right hand extends- REACH- Lean forward. Stretch. You can do this….. Hand Down. Kick legs up. 1, 2 Legs over…..”

“BAM”

All the self-talk and coaching in the world couldn’t have stopped it from happening. Instead of a graceful round-off- as planned-I landed flat on my butt. On the floor. The balance beam a few feet away- mocking me with it’s blond wooden sheen. Which wouldn’t have been a problem (I was well padded  even back then.Yup- I’m butt cursed. Or blessed. Depends on your perspective.)except my lungs quit working at the same time. Apparently they are not as well padded.

I couldn’t get up. Actually? I couldn’t move. I fell over in slow motion, like a rag doll left in a breeze. “Shake it off. You’re ok.” I heard my “coach” call out. (This was in the old days, when gymnastics cost less than a college education and was mostly for what we called: fun. The term “coach” applied to a tall bald guy who liked to wear shorts to work. Which is okay- because I was no Nadia comaneci. Obviously. Hence the Butt slam that left me breathless.)

Except- I wasn’t  okay. I knew it. Actually-  I was pretty sure I was dying. My chest was making all the movements that normally caused oxygen to flow through my lungs- but it wasn’t flowing! I felt like someone had held a Hoover over my mouth and sucked the air out of my lungs like deflating a balloon. Then, it felt like they’d put just enough Elmer’s school glue in to make the sides stick together and make it impossible to refill. I wondered if the world had suddenly “vaccuumized” itself. Or if maybe the Earth’s atmosphere had suddenly gone AWOL. But, since I was the only one drooling on the floor mat-  I knew it was probably just me. Dying. Possibly due to my round- off. Which was more like a flop- off and onto the floor.

I was panicked and paralyzed. The more I tried to breathe- the more I couldn’t. (more…)