I was a senior in high school, waiting to begin what could potentially be my final balance beam routine in my final competition of my 10-year gymnastics career. If I scored high enough on the beam—my strongest event—I would advance to the state competition. If not, my decade-long involvement in the sport would come to a close on this night. I was more than prepared to nail this routine and earn a spot at the highly-coveted state meet. I just needed to spend 90 seconds staying on that beam.
The hope in the room was high as I prepared to begin. My teammates, coaches, and the parents all knew this would either be my last or second-to-last routine. We all had bated breath.
The judges acknowledged that I could begin. I smiled, took a deep breath, and ran towards the springboard to mount the beam. My feet hit the four inch wide slab of wood, but not with much stability. I went to war to save myself from falling, bending my knees while my body shifted so dramatically from one side to another that “wobbly” became an understatement. I fought as hard as I could, but I couldn’t salvage it. Just as quickly as I began my routine, I ended my career. My feet hit the mat below as audible sighs echoed through the gymnasium.
I could have scratched the remaining 89 seconds of the routine, but this was it. My final routine after 10 years in the sport. With the pressure deflated, I hopped right back on the beam and did every move I’d practiced endlessly one last time. I had fun. I felt proud. I nailed 89 of 90 seconds of that routine. And: I didn’t qualify for the state competition.
I think about that final competition quite frequently, especially now, in a season of life when I’m trying to do it all—and want to be seen as someone who can do it all. I can do this, I think, until “this” becomes too much. I’m too overwhelmed, too pressured, too unsteady, or maybe just too tired. I drop several of the balls I’m juggling, take a fall, and miss the expectations I or others set for me.
Here’s the gritty truth: It feels terrible, no longer being able to keep your balance. It’s disappointing, embarrassing, and maddening. This is a thing I’ve done before and should always be able to do! Until that moment when your feet hit the landing just a millimeter off, or you don’t get enough protein, or the depression is too heavy. There’s the fall.
But then, there’s the relief.
When trying so hard to be seen as a champion, we can forget how good it feels to be human-sized.
To be a regular person who can do a lot of incredible things, but can’t do everything. I’m sad my career ended one competition early, but I loved ending it as a human being who can sometimes balance her entire self on a four-inch balance beam and who sometimes cannot. Imperfection doesn’t come with as many gold medals, but it doesn’t have to feel like losing.
Mallory Redmond embraces anomalies—she is an adventure-loving homebody who keeps a clean house yet always makes a mess while eating or brushing her teeth. She loves dry humor, clean sheets, and gathering around the table with friends. Mallory and her husband, Darren, live in Ohio with their beagle, Roger, and their two daughters. You can follow her writing here, where her stories are told with the hope of further uncovering the places of connection in our humanity.