When a Klutz Joins the Gymnastics Team

beam Welcome Michelle Willingham, author of CLAIMED BY THE HIGHLAND WARRIOR! (No, this isn’t Michelle on the beam.  She performs even more amazing feats.  Michelle writes great books.)

When I was sixteen, my mother suggested that I try out for a high school sports team, because it would make me more well-rounded for my college applications. Since I am a complete klutz with anything involving hitting, throwing, or catching a ball, that eliminated nearly everything except gymnastics and track. I had taken a few tumbling classes as a little girl and could still do a cartwheel or two. How bad could it be?

Awful, as it turned out. How was I to know that most of the other girls had been in club gymnastics since the age of three? I would never have made the team in a million years, if not for the fact that there were only about ten of us. Everyone made it—including me, the worst athlete of all.

And yet, gymnastics was fun in a way I’d never expected. I could laugh at myself, and even though I couldn’t do very much, I had a good sense of balance and could do the aforementioned cartwheel on the balance beam. That year, I did one balance beam routine in competition, as an exhibition. It was rather disastrous, but at the end of the season, I’d made so many friends, they voted me as co-captain for the following year. I promised myself that I would take up private lessons and try to get better before my senior year.

During the summer, I threw myself into the sport with a vengeance. I was not a natural. I couldn’t do anything right. But I was determined to reach my goal of being an average gymnast instead of a bad one (hey, I was realistic). If I could at least contribute to our team score and not be the worst one there, I could live with myself.

Fortunately, I found an amazing Czechoslovakian coach at the local gymnastics club, and he knew how to get me there. We worked on three events—vault, beam, and floor exercise. All summer long, I trained as hard as I could. He taught me to do back handsprings for my floor routine and how to create a beam routine filled with elements that were within my abilities. Bars were beyond me—not because of arm strength, but because my stomach strength wasn’t there. I still worked on them, but I was realistic in knowing my limitations.

When the following season came, I was ready. I shocked my high school coach when I was ready to compete three out of four events. I had done it—I was in the solidly average range. Most of my scores were 6.5’s and 7’s. I was quite happy with that, because it was a lot better than the 4 I’d received the previous year. I even competed in the all-around for one meet, even though my bar routine was awful.

The season had highs and lows, and at last, we competed in the District Championships. I watched one of my teammates complete her routine on the balance beam. All year long, she’d fallen off the beam, but despite everything, she never gave up. She was one of the weakest members on our team, but that day she nailed it. I was up next, and I remember thinking to myself, If she got through her routine without falling, by golly, so can you. I went through my routine with the attitude that I was not going to fall. No matter what. The steely determination came back, and I managed to make it through a solid routine.

Somehow the stars all aligned with the planets, and after that routine, I got the highest score for the entire season: a 7.9. And best of all, I came in sixth place in the District on balance beam.

Never had I imagined that hard work would get me so far. Or that steadfast faith would carry me through and bring the rewards.

claimed Writing is a lot like being the worst on the gymnastics team. When you start out, you have no idea what you’re doing. Often, you’ll fall down as you struggle to accomplish your goals. But if you have a positive attitude and work hard, you’ll keep getting better. Best of all, sometimes rewards will come when you least expect them and you’ll make wonderful friends along the way.

When I wrote Claimed by the Highland Warrior, I had to rewrite it at least four times. I changed the heroine twice and gutted the manuscript. My editor was tough, just like my gymnastics coach. In the end, she pushed me harder than ever, until we both had a book that we loved.

While there aren’t any athletes in the book—just a prisoner of war, separated from his wife for seven years— Bram MacKinloch has his own tough struggle ahead of him. He’s been weakened by his years in prison, and yet he has to save the brother who was left behind. He’s frustrated by his lack of strength, and in rebuilding himself, he turns to his wife to help him heal the wounds of the past.

Today, I’m giving away a signed copy of Claimed by the Highland Warrior to a random commenter. Just tell me if you played a sport in high school. If so, what sport did you play? I’d love to hear your stories!

Michelle Willingham is the author of over a dozen historical romances and novellas. Visit her website at: www.michellewillingham.com or interact with her on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/michellewillinghamfans. Claimed by the Highland Warrior is on sale in bookstores now, and the sequel, Seduced by Her Highland Warrior will be released on July 19th.

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About Kathleen Eagle

Kathleen Eagle is the award-winning, New York Times best-selling author of over forty novels.
This entry was posted in books, giveaway, gymnastics, Michelle Willingham, writing books and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to When a Klutz Joins the Gymnastics Team

  1. Susan Wilson says:

    I almost laughed out loud when I read the comment at the bottom of the blog – tell me what sport you played in high school!
    Not a chance!
    I very quickly learned you didn’t have to go to P.E. if you were in charge of the tuck shop for the entire school. Once I learned that important fact I turned into the Donald Trump of tuck shop’s at age 13. Never has a school tuck shop seen such a profit! And never did I get so much pleasure of skipping P.E!
    I went to dance school at night, so I wasn’t unfit. But gymnasium changing rooms seemed to attract bully’s for a geek like me. I couldn’t out sport them but I could out think them! I am the Queen of the Tuck Shop!

  2. Doris O'Connor says:

    Ah, I was actually very sporty at school (have to laugh at that now!) and pretty good at it as long as it wasn’t graceful. Graceful and me in the same sentence, urm no. For some reason I got it in my head that ballet lessons would be a good idea. I was always the tall, gangly, awkward teenager, so of course ballet would help – right?

    Hahaha! I really enjoyed the lessons actually, it was just for fun. I was too tall to ever become a prima ballerina lol, but it all went to pot when my ballet teacher in her wisdom decided to single me out in class one day. All good you might think, she said my technique was spot on and that’s what they all should be doing. And then she uttered these words.

    “Unfortunately Doris has the grace of an elephant…”

    Yeah, thanks for that teach! I never went back after that, because the other girls fell about laughing and I was mortally embarrassed.

    Stuck to athletics after that and earned the school a few medals. 🙂

  3. kris says:

    that’s a great story. I was a solidly average gymnast, but was too cool for my HS team and didn’t join a scholastic team until college. Those were some good times.

  4. Susan–LOL! Good for you on the Tuck shop! 🙂 When I was in middle school, I was able to get out of P.E. by volunteering to work with special needs children. It was very rewarding, but the truth was–I volunteered because I was atrocious at all team sports (baseball, volleyball, etc.). I was always the last one picked for teams.

    But with gymnastics, it was all girls and they were so friendly to me, I had a blast even though I was AWFUL. 🙂

  5. Stonehawk says:

    I joined the high school soccer team in my junior year in high school due to thinking it would look good to colleges. I wound up on the junior varsity team and even wound up on that team when I was a senior never making it to the varsity team. Oh well I don’t think I was good enough to attract an eye of any colleges. I didn’t get a chance to play on a college team due to not doing well on SATS and could only take college classes part time instead of full time. Just wish I had joined the high school soccer team in my freshman or sophomore year. Maybe some college coach could have given me a scholarship if I was that good enough. Oh well.

  6. Carol Donnermeyer says:

    That was a great personal account to read and thank you for sharing It just goes to show that a lot of personal determination and practice can get a person far. You are to be commended.

  7. Sara M. says:

    The only team sport I played was Academic Challenge, where one school tries to out-nerd the other by working in teams on Jeopardy-esque questions. I helped our team win when they asked what story “One dollar and eighty seven cents” opened. There was one speed math section I always failed at, though; I can work through any math problem as long as my brain has time to work on it, but if you rush me my natural aversion to math kicks in.

  8. Helen Brenna says:

    Welcome Michelle – I love the premise of your book. Heart wrenching stuff. Great cover, too!

    I’m about as uncoordinated as it gets, so my story might have started the same way as your blog. No high school sports for me. I have discovered as an adult that although I’ll always be uncoordinated I am more on the athletic side. I love physical challenge, as long as it doesn’t involve an aerobics class!

    And I wholeheartedly agree with you that writing and this career is challenging. Very challenging!

  9. cindy gerard says:

    Welcome to the ‘vert, Michelle and what an inspiring story. I always wanted to do gymnastics but it wasn’t offered in my little bitty school. I played softball and basketball – was mediocre at both but had fun!
    Your book looks wonderful – what a gorgeous cover!

  10. Kathleen says:

    The only thing I played in High School, in regard to sports, was Volleyball.. I was more into the arts in high school, writing plays and directing and perfoming.. If we had a pool, I might have tried out for the swim team… on secon thought no..

    Love the title of this book Michelle.. I will be putiing on my tbr list.

  11. CrystalGB says:

    Hi Michelle. I love your books. I never played a sport in high school. Too much of a klutz. 🙂

  12. Doris, how awful! I can’t imagine what that ballet teacher was thinking.

    Kris–what I enjoyed most was being on a team with good friends. It was great.

    Stonehawk–my daughter adores soccer. While I have hopes that one of my children might get an athletic scholarship, the realistic part of me knows that if they inherited my genes, they’re out of luck! 🙂

    Carol–I learned so much by being on the team, about how much you can improve if you set your mind to it. I had so much motivation to get better, and it really did help me later in life. It’s okay to attempt something that’s too hard for you–you might get further along than you think.

    Sara–so what story was it that opened with $1.87? I’m curious!

    Helen–I’m so uncoordinated, but it didn’t matter in the end. We had a blast, and I was in the best shape of my life. 🙂

    Cindy–I love softball! I wish my parents had let me play when I was younger. My daughter is on a team now.

    Kathleen–my memories of volleyball involve red forearms from where the ball smashed me. 🙂 I’m pretty sure I got knocked in the head a time or two, as well!

    Hi Crystal! Glad you stopped by. 🙂

  13. Ah, sports. I tried in phy ed because it was a class and I was serious about every class. I loved trampoline. (Do they still do that in school?) Loved folk dancing. (Does that count?) Loved swimming, but we only had that in 8th grade. Tennis? I discovered a flaw in my depth perception. Did not love team sports. Field hockey, bleh. When it was time for soft ball, I headed for the outer outfield where nothing ever happened. I found my inner sports enthusiast in collage when I was able to take horseback riding. It didn’t come naturally–took months to figure out what muscles to engage for posting the trot. But I perservered.

    Sigh. I need to get back into aerobis classes.

  14. lois greiman says:

    Welcome Michelle, and thanks for the great story. I love tales of perseverance because writing seems to take more of it than anything else. Best of luck with your beautiful new book.

  15. Linda Morgan says:

    I really admire anyone who can overcome lack of natural talent/abilities. I never could walk and chew gum at the same time, but I took dance lessons from age 5 to 14. I had no talent, no rhythm, and although I was very limber and flexible and had very long legs, I am sure the instructors only missed my tuition when I finally gave up. Later I discovered I could dance after a couple of drinks, but I could throw up on #4. Maybe I just didn’t care and was loosened up enough to have fun. I could ride a horse, even jumping, but I always gave credit to the horse. Had it left up to me, I’d have broken my neck. I tried out for cheerleading every year. I give myself credit for trying out. Back in those days you did need to do a cartwheel, another thing I have never been able to do. How I raised a daughter to be a competitive cheerleader/gymnast is beyond me. She sure didn’t get her talent and coordination from me!

  16. Kathleen–LOL! So I wasn’t the only one picking clover in the outfield during P.E. for softball/baseball? 🙂

    Lois–thanks so much!

    Linda–I’m glad your daughter is having a great time! And I’ll give you credit for trying out! It sure isn’t easy, is it?

  17. Jennifer L says:

    I left the sports playing to my big sister, who is a lot more coordinated than I am. When I was forced to play softball in PE, I begged my dad to give me batting lessons. He was happy to help. I was never any good, but at least I didn’t humiliate myself – much.

  18. catslady says:

    Somehow I always enjoyed gym although I too was not too good at things. I remember trying out for cheerleading squad because my best friend insisted but neither of us made it lol. My family never did any activities or thought it worth doing so I depended on books a lot. I wish I had pushed myself more and I do think perserverance and support can make a lot of things possible. Medievals and highlanders are my absolute favorite!

  19. Summer says:

    What a great, inspiring post, perseverance is so important. I’ve never been athletic, but I have become a sports fan as I’ve gotten older, and I think a big part of the appeal is seeing people really fighting to succeed and having the courage to dust themselves off and try again.

  20. infinitieh says:

    I didn’t participate in any school sports, but I did have a sport to put on my college applications: horseback riding. Mind you, I wasn’t that good at it. I’m a very quick learner but I don’t have a whole lot of staying power. Plus, I did manage to fall off a horse, land on my head, have a seizure, and end up in the emergency room – all without a parent around, just my younger sister.

    If I were to pick up a sport now, I’d go with fencing. It’s safer than horseback riding and has more physical movement than archery.

  21. Fedora says:

    Wow, Michelle! I’m totally impressed! I was pretty horribly unathletic in school (uh, still am…) I do have terrible memories of trying to learn to play things like kickball, volleyball, softball, etc., all at an age past when most other kids already knew the basics. I’m sure it didn’t help that I was very self conscious, and probably remember it with more embarrassment than it warranted! I actually liked stuff like gymnastics, but most of physical education was ball sports, alas!

    Took my first ballet class as a freshman in college, and am finally on point 🙂 (I’m could be the mom of the rest of the kids in my class… ;))

  22. chey says:

    I was on the highschool curling team.

  23. Hi, Michelle {wave from the eHarlquin boards} Like you, hand-eye coordination was a big obstacle for me (until I got glasses as an adult), but I’ve always loved to run. Since I also have a somewhat orderly mind, I ended being the ref more than playing — field hockey and basketball, mostly. Since the “girls rules” basketball we were forced to play back in the day confined players to certain areas on the court, being ref meant I got lots more exercise than anyone else! Thanks for the inspirational post.

  24. Stephenia says:

    I loved sports! I lettered in softball – I was the catcher. Also basketball – I played when it was still half court for girls. I also played Volleyball, got lots of sore fingers from it. But my favorite sport was badmitton – I never realized how competitive it could be and it was lots of fun whacking that birdy around!

  25. Quilt Lady says:

    I never played any type of sports in high school, just wasn’t my thing plus I had no way of getting to the event anyway. After high school I did get on a womens softball team in a factory where I worked. We never won any games but we had a blast. I was the pitcher.

  26. Keri Ford says:

    Congrats on the gym determination and the gut manuscript ripping! Both equally difficult.

    Mom put me in gymnastics when I was a kid. I refused to do a roll on the balance beam and that was the end of that career.

    Instead I was a cheerleader for 6yrs.

  27. Heather says:

    What a great story. I was definitely NOT a high school athlete. I did weight training for the PE requirement the last two years, and tended towards more “cerebral” pursuits outside of class, such as the arts magazine, yearbook, forensics, and AFS. Still not into sports, though I do enjoy walking and the occasional bike ride.

  28. Sara M. says:

    “Gift of the Magi” was the story. I only knew that because I had just re-read it. It’s one of my favorites, a story of what love really means. 🙂

  29. Lisarenee says:

    What a great and inspiring story. I only participated in sports my freshman year of high school. I was in private school and like you, got into everything because everyone did. Even though I wasn’t that good I really enjoyed them all. I was a cheerleader (no back flips for me) , in basketball, and volleyball. Basketball was the most challenging of the three and also my favorite. I usually was an alternate and one day our star player got injured and they put me in. All those distance shots I practiced finally payed off. I ended up scoring the most points in a game for the season and we won. Truth be told I couldn’t find a clear pass to anyone else so I just took the shots. I had never before nor after ever made as many baskets. It’s fun when hard work pays off.

  30. Nancy Holroyd says:

    What an uplifting story about your struggles to better yourself in something you say you had no natural ability. It also shows how strong your determination is–by golly if you can learn to vault you can nail those revisions!

    I have never been an athlete, but my high school gym teacher was the gymnastics coach. She had a reputation for hating non-athlete’s and failing them no matter how hard they tried. I was a nervous wreck, however I was determined not to flunk gym. There were three female gym teachers (this was in the dark ages when gym classes were segregated). But she was the only one that spent half the year doing gymnastics.

    She asked if any of us were afraid of heights. I hated to admit it to her–I figured it would mean an automatic fail, however I raised my hand. She had her two best gymnasts spot me. Yes, I managed to learn a simple routine on the four foot high beam, she started me on one that was low to the floor. I vaulted–I loved vaulting–who knew? But it was the uneven bars that I was terrified of the most and learned to love the most. No, I was never very good, but I could get through a simple routine. And I ended up getting an A in gym.

    I learned to attack everything with enthusiasm in her class and I would ace it every time. She failed a few people who were much better than I was, but they complained and whined all the time in class. I smiled to hide my nerves, tried my best and somehow got through her class with an A in every quarter. Not bad for a non-athlete.

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