Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Where I brag about run-ins with famous gymnastics coaches

I’ve mentioned that I was a gymnast in one of my previous lives. It was something that I loved and hated all at the same time. I wasn’t really good at dealing with all the pressure. My favorite times were in the off-season when I could learn new tricks and enjoy my time a little more.

One spring, our gym hosted a meet that included some of the most talented up-and-coming stars of the day. It was 1986, so it wasn’t an Olympic year, so I’m not sure what exactly the meet would have been. It included gymnasts from all over the country, the ones who would be qualifying in 2 years to go to the games in Seoul, Korea. Among them were two heroes of the day, Kristie Phillips and Phoebe Mills, both of whom were coached by Bela Karolyi.

Now, remember that I didn’t deal well with pressure. Sure, I wasn’t competing (far from it, with my super-high tech tricks of the day being a back walkover on the beam, yee haw!), but I had been assigned to help for some of the events, meaning I would wait for scores to be written on a piece of paper by the judges and then post the score for each gymnast. Our coaches had warned us that we needed to conduct ourselves well, that we couldn’t mess around or do anything to disrupt the judges or gymnasts.

I didn’t sleep well the night before I was scheduled to help. I was nervous about seeing so many of my heroes, and terrified I would mess up in some stupid way that would get me in trouble.

The result of these nerves was that I woke up with a giant scratch running the length of my forehead (which, as my husband can attest, is quite an expanse). It was huge. I had to go and help that day, feeling like an idiot, with a big flaming scab adorning my face. Just exactly what I wanted for the big day.

In the gymnasts off-time, between sessions of meets and during warm ups and stuff, we had access to them. After the session I was assigned to help in, I went around with my friends and got autographs. One of the people that I ended up running into was Bela Karolyi himself. I asked him for his autograph, and he obliged. He looked at me and said, “Wow, a scratch!” and traced scratch on my forehead with his finger.

He then posed for what turned out to be a blurry photo of me and my sister Amy standing with an unidentifiable dark haired man. (Hey Amy, do you remember this? Any idea what happened to the photo?)

Last night, when Bela was talking with Bob Costas during the women’s team finals, I remembered having this picture taken. I remember wondering if he was as scary when angered as some of my coaches were. I wondered how he motivated so many gymnasts to excel so brilliantly. But mostly, I remember the kindness that he showed to a nervous kid.

I wish I had the photo. I’m sure it is lost in some box in my mother’s house (scary!). At least, with the blurriness, you probably can’t see my scratch. There are SOME small mercies, I guess.

So what memories of meeting famous people do you have?


Jeff and Kayci Bitton said...

That's really neat! Last night while we were watching the Olympics, I was telling Jeff how you and Amy did gymnastics growing up. Did you guys ever want to go as far as the Olympics?

Amy Sorensen said...

OK. Seriously? I have ZERO memory of this! ZERO!!! What is WRONG with me??? Tell me...was it at the gym? Or somewhere else?

Honestly...I don't know if it's a front he puts on for the press, and in reality he's a mean SOB, Jack x100, but I love Bela. He seems like he really does care for the girls.

OK...refresh my memory. Give me some more details.

Amy Sorensen said...


I am SO shocked that the picture was blurry.