Artistic Gymnastics

I bloody love Actual Olympians (don’t worry, Seb, you’re still my NFO). Basically, I am rubbish at all sport and, seemingly, therefore quite stupid to undertake a challenge whereby I have a go at loads of them. However, regardless of this, they’re out there spreading the word, giving my fragile ego a kindly rub and making me feel like there might just be a point to all this. I’m adding Weightlifter, Zoe Smith and Judoko, Karina Bryant to my list of amazing word-spreaders. Foster, how hard would it be to reply to one tweet? Seriously, WHAT WOULD IT TAKE??

I was back at the British School of Osteopathy this week (they’re not paying me for this, honestly – they’re just really very reasonably priced and quite lovely), and improvement seemed to have been made, mostly because I didn’t run much last week. Having returned to this hateful activity this week, I can confirm that my lower legs may now be falling off. So I guess I’ll be returning to the BSO again soon, after I stop sobbing into the Charlton Athletic  onesie of Marathon Bear, who I am currently snuggling up with. Yes, ironically, I love the London Marathon SO MUCH that as a child, I named a bear after it. My brother, Michael, disputes this and reckons she was named after the chocolate bar, but he still denies cutting an “M” shape into the cat’s fur when we were little, so I question the reliability of his early recollections.

Before shit with my ankle (s. plural – yes both of them, now) got real, I visited trainer, Alex Jerrom, at the East London Gym to learn how to be an artistic gymnast. Surprisingly, I forgot to ask him about this, but according to his website, Alex has worked with former One-time Nation’s Sweetheart, Cheryl Cole who I love, in spite of her (possible) penchant for auto-tune. I tend to think of gymnastics as a bit of a girly sport, but Alex is pretty much the buffest man I have ever seen in real life, and it becomes apparent during our sessions that you actually have to be pretty strong to lift your own body weight in a variety of ridiculous manoeuvres.

Pretty serious about not touching the floor

Pretty serious about lifting my own body weight

To start off with, we do some stretching so Alex can see just what kind of a physical wreck he’s working with. Like the synchronised swimming coach, before him, he seems surprised that I’m vaguely flexible. I don’t know where this surprise comes from – I’m not morbidly obese and I don’t wheeze when I walk, or anything. But Alex tells me “you’d be surprised how many people can’t touch their toes”. I can even lay my hands flat on the floor and touch my knees with my nose, so I’m claiming this as a victory.

I can’t, however, do the splits, which is annoying, and it’s frustrating to watch a fully grown man accomplish this when I can’t. I have previously only witnessed people on telly or children achieve these dizzy heights. Though Alex has been doing this since he was a child, and apparently if you learn whilst your muscles and joints are still supple, it’s easier when you’re older. This freaks me out a bit, because I interpret this to mean you literally change the way in which your body develops – as if you were binding your feet, or something. Though with gymnastics, you get out what you put in, Alex tells me. So if you commit yourself to stretching a bit more every day, as I have in a vain attempt to be ready for the long-awaited rhythmic gymnastics competition, you could still learn to do the splits as an adult (I still can’t).

Alex teaches me some basic gymnastic shapes, the pike and the dish to name two of the three, in all honesty, I’ve forgotten the name of the third, but they all pretty much involve lying down, holding your legs out straight at various degrees from the floor. After I’ve mastered these, I jump across the sprung floor (this is AMAZING) which apparently, I’m alright at, and then we move onto some forward rolls. The fear of breaking my neck/head is real, and holds me back from getting the momentum necessary to stand up afterwards, because I spend bloody ages trying to tuck my head under to avoid breakage. Based on the footage of my trampolining exploits, I dread to think what I must have looked like.

We try some cartwheels, which I have never been able to do, even as a child. This is because, as I discover, again, my fear of head-breaking stops me from throwing myself around with enough force to get any momentum. Further to this, for THIRTY YEARS I have been putting my hands in some weird space sort of in front of me, rather than in the direction in which I would hope to travel. The result is a kind of crazy arse-in-the-air-bunny-hop round myself. I do show some signs of improvement now that I know what I’m supposed to be doing, but it’s pretty hit and miss. Though inexplicably, I seem to have mastered a front-ways on cartwheel, where you place your hands opposite each other so that you magically face the other way on landing. I think I could be ok at this, with a bit of practice.

By the end of our second session, I am clumsily scrabbling onto the beam (which is thinner than it looks) and attempting to walk across it without falling off, which I just-about manage. I think I need to work on my presentation.

Pretty serious about walking along a beam

Pretty serious about walking along a beam

In our second session, we have another go at forward rolls and cartwheels, and I kind-of manage to let go of my fear of death-by-gymnastics, but I whinge about it A LOT. “Is there any of this that you do enjoy?”, Alex asks me. Actually, I really do enjoy all of it, despite my fears, because you don’t get to throw yourself head-first at the floor all that much as an adult, and I’d forgotten (provided the necessary safeguards are in place) how much fun it is.

Alarmingly, Alex is going to trust me to throw myself head first at the (crash-mat covered) floor at speed, now, and I will attempt to run at the crash mat, jump, then hurl myself into a forward roll across the mat. This is literally the most terrifying thing I have ever done and I’m quite sure that I will die whilst attempting it. In fact, I do land on my neck a bit clumsily during one attempt, but I don’t think I’m that bad at it, all things considered. Again, watching the footage afterwards, I realise I look really quite ridiculous in my run-up to the mat.

The final activity is the “falling leaf”, which essentially teaches you how to do aback-flip, but without actually doing one. This time, you throw yourself BACKWARDS head-first at the floor from some height, which the footage here doesn’t really do justice, into a pit of sponge. It’s hard enough trying to lift myself onto the bar and shuffle along it, and I’m a mess. Obviously, Alex isn’t going to let me fall off and hurt myself and there is a pit of sponge beneath me, but as neck-breaking activities go, this has surely got to be up there?

I’m literally shaking and babbling like an idiot as Alex instructs me to lean back onto his hand. All I have to do is move as if I’m leaning to look backwards, then my legs will flip over me and I’ll fall feet first into the pit. Ok, easy, all I have to do IS THROW MYSELF HEAD FIRST, BACKWARDS, FROM HEIGHT, AT THE FLOOR. And I really am scared of EVERYTHING. Remarkably, I do it, and Alex even comments that if I’d filmed it, it would be something I “wouldn’t be embarrassed” to show other people, which I’m claiming as another victory.

I love gymnastics, and I’m very pleased to award myself the gold medal this week. Partly because I’m the only contestant and partly because I even think it might be my sport if I can get over the fear of breaking my head/face/neck. In fact, I regret that my mum didn’t nurture this “talent” when I was a child – I could’ve retired already and been a contestant on Dancing on Ice, skating the Bolero whilst looking into the abyss behind Jane Torvill’s tortured eyes. What a life I could’ve had.

 

Gold

Silver

Bronze

Total

Jen

8

11

1

20

Jade

2

1

3

Gemma

2

2

Nick

2

2

Harriet

1

1

2

Chloe Rogers

1

1

Dalston Dunkers

1

1

Daniel

1

   

1

GB Handball

1

1

John

1

1

Naomi

1

1

Otter Water Polo

1

1

Romford HC

1

1

Ruislip Eagles

1

1

Steve

1

1

Su

1

1

Simon

2

2

Uncle Becky

2

2

Ali

1

1

James

1

1

My Mum

1

1

Nic

1

1

Pete

1

1

 

© Inspire a Jen, 2013.

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