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.
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.