“Do you think, if I asked, coach would let me stay after a couple minutes so I can try to get my back handspring on the floor?”
Practice had just ended. My coat was on and my bag was slung over my shoulder. But her request feels urgent; she has been staying after practice routinely for “open gym” to work on tumbling skills–no to work on one tumbling skill. Back handspring after back handspring, never on the floor but only on the trampoline or the mat. She can do it in every sense but the one that really matters. Ever since she threw herself into this sport last summer, this skill has taunted her.
And why not? It defies every human instinct to hurl your body backwards and your head toward the floor. That’s the hard part, right? The backward plunge? Once your hands meet the floor it looks like a simple firm push and you spring upright on your feet.
That’s how it looks at least.
So now she wants to try on the floor, without a spot, after practice, with the coach’s explicit permission. That’s the handspring before the handspring: asking the coach. “Sure,” I answer. “He’s right there. Just ask him.”
She’s all hesitation and waffle here. Coach is nice and all, but he could say no, and, given how close she feels to achieving this and how serious a step it is for her to invite public attention, that would be devastating; there are still people in the gym. The team of older girls who practice after her team is already on the floor. I meet her hesitation with calculated nonchalance, like, “Sure. Whatever.” Finally coach approaches and I kind of nudge her toward him.
“Um, my dad wanted me to ask you if I could try my back handspring on the floor.”
Whatever it takes, kid.
He raises his eyebrows. “On the floor?” She smiles and nods with resolve. “Sure. C’mon.”
I stand next to coach in the doorway and watch as she performs what has become a well-practiced ritual, snapping her open palms to her sides and then bending at the knees as if to pounce, but then dropping a foot to catch herself. It is one aborted launch sequence after another.
I’m trying to look like I’m not watching, but I think coach can feel my stress. The older team is watching, and that’s making me even more nervous. “This is normal,” Coach mutters, almost under his breath. And then she does it. She doesn’t quite stick the landing and ends up on her knees, but the hurdle is effectively cleared, so she wastes no time getting up and going again, this time with no hesitation, and she sticks the landing.
The watching team hoots and applauds, and I stifle my own holler. But she’s not done. As if to prove to herself that this is who she is now, someone who can do an un-spotted back handspring, she knocks out a couple more with ease.
And now it’s her time to force nonchalance as she high fives coach and brushes past me toward the exit, saying only, “Okay, we can go now.”