Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Out of the Blue (Part VI)

Moving On: The Letter (to her)
If relationships were vehicles, then my brief time with Gabrielle would have clearly been a top-fuel dragster on the quarter-mile. A proverbial flurry of squealing tires and nitromethane fumes, flaming out halfway down the short track — coasting to the finish line. Nobody plans for these kind of things; sometimes the fuel mixture just isn’t right. Sometimes things just fizzle.

When things started to break down, I tried to continue to see her, but it eventually just became more than I wanted to deal with. I was a mess. To make matters worse, I had horribly over-committed myself to a school workload that would have been tough even if I wasn’t an athlete. The pressure of upper-division coursework at the university level, combined with my first run at NCAA gymnastics competition was starting to take a toll on me.

I would write letters to Gabrielle as I began to see her less and less. We still talked on the phone, but even that was becoming an agonizing exercise. I can remember just feeling so tight that I wanted to burst out of my skin. Finally I decided I had to step away completely — for my own sake. I wrote her a “Dear Gab” letter. I told her everything that was on my mind. I said that I respected who and where she was in her life, but that my feelings for her were just too strong for me to pretend that we were just friends. I told her I had to step back. I said everything I wanted to say, because I honestly never expected to see her again — and I didn’t.

The pain I felt in my heart however, would soon be overshadowed by something much worse.

Oh, My Achin’ Back
While competing in our league finals, I lost control on a new dismount I was attempting in competition for only the second time. I landed on my back, and my backward rotation left me perilously close to landing squarely on my neck. I suffered a compression fracture of the 5th lumbar vertebrae (the last one before the tailbone). How fitting; I now had a broken back to go along with my broken heart.

I had to be carried off on a stretcher, and spent the night in the hospital.

That was the bad news. The good news was that since I was in bed for the next 6 weeks I was granted a medical withdrawal from my classes for the semester, in which I was making straight Ds.

So I had some time to think about things. That was another bittersweet experience. One thing I thought about was what I’d learned from the last few crazy months. The obvious answer was that I needed to forget about Gabrielle and move on with my life. I needed to stop worrying about things I couldn’t control and direct my energy on things that I could. And so I did.

The Road to the Finals
At the earliest point I could get the go-ahead from the doctor, I began training for the 1978 season. My back healed completely (or so I thought at the time…but that’s another story), and I had a great Summer. I came back to school that Fall for my final year of competition in shape and ready to go. I was ranked in the top 20 in the nation consistently throughout season and achieved my goal of qualifying for the 1978 NCAA Finals. The final routine of my collegiate career was perhaps the best I'd ever performed. Time seemed to stand still. I felt strong. I nailed the dismount.

It was a good way to go out.

Next: Mixed Messages: The Letter (from her)
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