As a child I used to like to brag about how many injuries I had acquired. Each open wound, scar, allergy, and bump signified notches on my ladder of life accomplishments. As my injury count rose, so did my tier of badassery. It also helped I was indoctrinated early on as a young gymnast, welcoming pain as a sign of accomplishment and merit. I highly recommend having your children undergo mental and/or physical training from someone hailing from a former Soviet blocked country. The benefits will scar them for years to come.
But not all the credit can fall squarely on coach Dimitri, who told me tearing the skin off my hands would make me one of his, “little soldiers”. I also had some fun challenges which pre-dated my gymnastics boot camp.
I was born with some sort of bizarre intolerance to food. All food. Bummer, right? I mean, there are allergies, and then there are allergies. According to my Mother, I wasn’t able to digest anything for the first two years of my life and at one point was sustaining solely on sugar water. Which is odd, because you’d think I’d have an extra special bond with hummingbirds, but they kind of creep me out. (Does anyone else think they look and sound like those flying beetles?)
So the first two years of life I spent hopped up on sugar water. I’d like to say I have an unhealthy relationship with sugar to this day, but I’d be describing most of the US population, so that doesn’t really make me special.
Then there were the childhood seizures, those were fun. I kid, I don’t remember them and honestly, it might have been my sister who had those. Memories are great, especially when you poach them from family members.
When I was two I got dropped on my head by my babysitter. -Whoops, that’s also my sister.
When I was four my sister ran over me with her bicycle. Then backed up and ran over me again. So actually, I don’t feel so bad borrowing a few of her memories.
When I was five, I got my tongue stuck to a frozen ski pole.
When I was six I got my tongue stuck to a Jello Pudding Pop. It stayed attached to my tongue through an entire episode of Gilligan’s Island.
When I was nine I ate a poisonous cactus. On purpose.
When I was ten I chopped off half my thumb trying to cut a piece of chocolate.
(I’m beginning to think I could have avoided a lot of injuries if I’d had more well-balanced meals those first few years.)
When I was eleven I walked head first into a lead pipe sticking out the back of a flatbed truck, clotheslining myself like an NFL running back.
When I was twelve I got all my fingers slammed into the hinge of our Datsun Hatchback. My fingers survived, but to this day look a little wonky when I have to do the, “We’re Number 1” gesture.
When I was thirteen I got a root canal without novocaine. (The dentist was later found to have questionable medical practices and disbarred. But only after I left incisor marks on his right forearm.)
And then I started gymnastics. All my injuries up until that point had been considered unfortunate. But once I learned how to accompany them with a flip, a jump, or an uncomfortably stretchy split, I was able to chalk them up to me getting stronger, better, more powerful.
Every day I would come home with another part of my body black and blue from falls and mid-air collisions, or hands torn, calloused and bleeding from palm to palm. My Jewish girl stigmatas were alive and well from hours upon hours dangling off of wooden bars and beams. My baby body flush with chalk, girl sweat and determination was told over and over again, every pain meant I was marching forward on the path to victory!
Other great lessons I learned from my tyrannical coaches included:
Instead of crying, try counting in your head! Once you hit the number 13,479 you’ll forget why you were so sad in the first place, or that your ankle is swollen to the size of an oven mitt.
If you’ve been aggressively yelled at for not pointing your toes, think of the color blue. Blue doesn’t hate you, even if your coaches do.
Also, never pull your leotard out of your butt crack. It’s a sign of weakness. To to this day, if I feel myself getting a wedgie, I instinctively refuse to touch it, for fear I’ll be deducted points. (I double-dog dare you to google this.)
When you’re a kid, stuff heals. Real quick. Nowadays, the only thing that heals quickly is my neighbor’s blind Chihuahua, Ricardo.
Back then, I could lose a tooth, break a finger, catch my nostril on a tree trunk (to be fair it was buried in a dirt mound and I was running on all fours) and come away from it with nary a worry.
Now, I brush my hair at the wrong angle and I can’t move my neck for a week.
It’s not that I feel old. It’s that I feel more “at risk”. Now when I walk into my house I tell myself to put my shoes off to the corner, so I don’t trip on them later. Or I’ll think to myself before biting into that granola bar, “Are there almonds? I don’t want to chip a tooth!”
A few months back I injured myself in yoga doing, “Child’s Pose”. For any of you who don’t know what this is, it’s the pose where you rest like a baby. A baby! The only thing you have to do is sit still. And yet, I managed to pop out my kneecap.
Instead of feeling proud because I was doing an exercise to get my body stronger, I felt like I’d fallen another rung down on that ladder. I’m not sure if the goal these days is to get to the top of the ladder or to the bottom, especially considering how badly a fall off a ladder hurts.
I don’t think it has as much to do with moving into adulthood as much as it does with realizing that with one wrong step and I could lose an eyeball. (Recently I walked into a bouncing ball and ended up nearly getting my eye bounced out.)
The one thing that has remained consistent over the years is that I am a very athletic person. I love to move, dance, hike, jump, swim, bend, kick, climb and wrestle. While the practical application of these things has undergone modifications over the years, it’s still something I do almost daily as it brings me joy, peace, and inspiration for the rest of my day. And if I stop and think about it, perhaps the injuries are a sign I am continuing to move forward, just not at the breakneck pace of Coach Dimitri’s military demands.
So nearly drowning in the ocean is less traumatic if I think about the fact I was in the middle of racing a triathlon. Or wiping out in the LA River on my bicycle is an accomplishment because most people can’t even find the LA River!
And like anything in life, the attitude you bring to the job means everything. I also have to try harder to acknowledge when stuff feels good. Beyond that, giving myself a hearty reminder of all the parts that are healthy, and note I don’t necessarily feel them, because they are doing their job.
Even if it’s a,“Gahdamn my elbows feel spectacular today! Thank you, Universe!” I can focus on what isn’t hurting, even if only for a moment before I victoriously march into a new day.