Life Lessons from the Balance Beam

It's been a few years since I've fallen off a balance beam. But the lessons I've learned have been invaluable. Here are a few of my favourites.

My Mom (Yvonne)

My mom didn’t want me to play football.

“I made the team,” I said. Yes, an 11-year-old girl picked to play with the guys.

“Why don’t you take gymnastics?” she asked as she pointed at the the TV.

It was the Olympics. Nadia Comaneci was dancing on the balance beam.

She scored a perfect 10.

It was an amazing moment that stunned the world.

Nadia Comaneci was 14 years old.

My life changed at that moment.

“I want to be like her.”

That was in 1976. Now I look back on the conversation and realize that it changed the course of my life. In a matter of weeks, I was hanging upside down in my black-and-gold bodysuit, praying my coach had a good grip on my legs and he wouldn’t drop me.

Coach was trying to teach me how to do a cartwheel. But I wasn’t getting the hang of it. No pun intended.

He flipped me right side up and helped me land safely on my feet.

“See? This is what it feels like to do a cartwheel.”

I didn’t see. But I was beginning to get the feel.

The thing is I loved gymnastics. Soaked up everything my coach told me. But it was a lot harder than Nadia made it look on TV.

At the end of the year, I convinced my mom to talk to Dagmar, the head coach, about me.

“Barbara would like to be on the competitive team,” she told her.

“No, no, no!” Dagmar shouted in her thick European accent. “Barbara is too old.”

Too old?

I was 12.

Here's what I learned: Gymnastics is a lot harder than it looks on TV. And when someone says you're too old to do something, you don't have to believe them.