April 30, 2016 Posted by Linda Vettrus-Nichols - No Comments


I started gymnastics when I was seven years old. The number one thing to learn was keeping my balance. Leaning too much one way or another constituted disaster, especially on the balance beam. My balance was quite good by my senior year in high school. I was on the gymnastics team and competed only on the floor. No equipment for me because I was a dancer and my dance instructor felt that being on the equipment was too risky. I was headed for a career in dance so I decided to just stick with floor routines.

One day my coach approached me about an upcoming gymnastics meet. She mentioned that we would be short team members and therefore be losing points. She was wondering if I would be willing to compete on the balance beam as well as doing my floor routine. I told her I had promised my dance instructor that I would stay off of the equipment because it would be easy to get hurt. My coach assured me that I could gain many points for the team, for my beautiful ballet arm movements, and that I could keep the routine quit simple. I decided to go for it and agreed to add in a balance beam routine.

On the day of the gymnastics meet, I was in the locker room getting changed into my leotard and gymnastic shoes. I started to get really nervous and then a feeling of dread came over me. My father, my biggest gymnastics fan, had died less than six months prior to this meet. He wouldn’t be there to see me compete. I knew he would be with me there in spirit and I felt quite confident. The dread was more of a premonition that something disastrous was about to happen. When my coach stopped by the locker room, she sat down with me to process what I was feeling. She assured me that all would be well and that I was going to be doing a simple routine that I had rehearsed all week. I agreed and the feeling left me.

When it was my turn to perform on the balance beam, I easily mounted the beam, did a flawless routine, and ended it with a round-off from the end of the beam. I would have landed on the mat however the girl ahead of me had slid the mat off of the metal foot at the end of her routine. This was in the day before crash pads were in use. Not being all that familiar with the equipment, I didn’t realize I needed to check the mat before mounting the beam. I dismounted and my right foot hit metal instead of mat. I buckled in excruciating pain and crumbled to the floor. People rushed towards me and there was a great deal of commotion. Someone picked me up and sat me on a chair, my foot was put in a bucket of ice water and the real pain began. I felt like I was in the middle of a nightmare. I kept trying to pull my foot out of the ice water. There were plenty of people standing by to make sure that didn’t happen. I was so frustrated and angry that I was unable to move away from the pain. I was then taken to the hospital. I was admitted and given morphine. When the x-ray results came back I was told I had crushed my heel and that I would be lucky if I were able to walk and that I would never dance again. I was crushed, all of my dreams of being a professional dancer had been instantly taken away or so I thought.

The worst pain of all came when I started thinking about how I needed to call my dance instructor and tell her what I had done. I kept breaking down in tears. I finally called a close dancer friend and asked her to tell our instructor. I was later relieved to find out that my dance instructor was more concerned about me than not following her advice. She helped me to reset my thinking. It turned out that I was able to walk and I went on to perform again about a year later. I never did become a professional dancer, but that is another story.

There are many things I learned that day.

It reinforced what I had learned upon my father’s death

which is the Life Death Life cycle and that life can change in a heartbeat.