The 1996 Olympics and the Evil Vault

The Olympics have always been my thing. 4 months ago, I told my boyfriend and roommate that we would have two weeks of non-stop sports television when the Olympics came on…Maybe they didn’t believe me. Maybe they didn’t understand the scope. Maybe they really didn’t think I could watch THAT much Olympic coverage…but I can. And I am. Suffice it to say, they were actually shocked that by the 4th night I was still obsessing. Brian even offered to watch a Disney movie with me, and I told him, “After the 12th.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve cried during this year’s Olympics. But it’s been a lot. Beginning with opening ceremonies, all the way through to the current morning, I can’t seem to keep my Olympic sized emotions in check. When I watched the Magnificent Seven video on Sunday morning (yes, I DVRed everything so I can watch it at my leisure and fast forward through commercials and boring stuff), I was bawling my eyes out.

1996 Olympics

I remember watching the 1996 Olympic Games like it was yesterday. I was 13 and angst-y, but the Olympics gave me something to dream about. I remember watching the late night coverage as I fell asleep in my bedroom, listening to the Gloria Esteban song a thousand times, and obsessing over Dominique Moceanu’s adorable floor routine. She was my favorite, probably because she was the closest in age to me, though most of the Mag Seven were all relatively young.

The most impressing moment of those Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia was, of course, Kerri Strug’s epic vault. I wasn’t the biggest Strug fan, as my loyalties were to her younger arch-rival also under Karolyi’s teaching, Dominique Moceanu. But as Kerri was a part of team USA, of course, I cheered for her. When she fell on her first vault and kept going…I was shocked and excited. When she stuck her final landing, I was crying. Mom and I watched as they carried Strug off the floor, in awe, and at the same time, we were so excited for the US Gold.

My Vaulting Experience

Of course, I did promise my own contribution to this little tale…

About a year later, I was a freshman in high school. I was an athlete, a cheerleader, and I loved high school. In Freshman Gym, we had a gymnastics unit, in which we utilized all of the gymnastics equipment. This was, by far, my favorite unit in typical gym classes. The last day before Christmas break, I was performing a jump over the vault, and I landed too close to the apparatus where the mats were unevenly spaced, and my ankle rolled off the bottom of the vault. I fell, and could not get up. Two of my classmates walked me down to the nurse, where they iced & elevated the ankle and called my mom.

Mom took me to the doctor, my last visit to Doctor Carol (the pediatrician that was so old she was my mom’s pediatrician). The ankle was sprained pretty badly and I needed crutches. Dr. Carol put me on crutches and told me to stay off my ankle for two weeks.

That night, at the home basketball game, I was obviously benched, and sat in the bleachers with my coaches and my crutches. I was really bummed out. I had been crying all day. I had missed “candy cane delivery” for the last day before Christmas break (sure that one of my many crushes would send me a candy cane professing their love for me). So I sat there, depressed, but managed to keep it in check while I cheered for our basketball team with the energy and excitement that I was known for.

Later that night, as a celebratory “coaches meeting” took place at Flaherty’s (the bar that my family owned), the high school sports trainer walked up to my dad and asked him what had happened to me. Dad told him the story of gym class gone awry, and after some additional rants from Mr. G about high school athletes not needing gym class, Mr. G told my dad to bring me in to see him in the morning.

That Saturday morning, during a wrestling meet, I met with Mr. G. He looked at my ankle and told me this, “If you want to cheer when you get back from Christmas break, you’ll need to start walking on it today.” He cut out some foam pieces and fit them into my cheer shoes. “These will help you walk a little easier. They will angle your feet so that you aren’t putting as much pressure on your hurt ankle. Try them out.”

I got up and started walking. This was, as I now understand, the biggest mistake of my life. It hurt like hell, but I wanted to cheer. You don’t threaten a 14-year-old to go against a doctor’s orders if he or she would like to continue their sport. But he did. And I listened. Dad and I didn’t know any better.

As a result, my ankle never healed properly (as my body had not fully developed), and my other ankle was weakened by favoring the injured one. I have sprained both ankles countless times, and even an orthopedic surgeon could only tell me that my ankles were “loosey goosey” and I would just have to “deal with annual ankle sprains.”

I may not have competed in the Olympics, but hey, Kerri Strug and I have something in common now.

Hey! Did you know you can buy my book on Amazon? 37 women wrote about the struggle for perfection, and I'm one of 'em. Go check it out!