My Score was a 2.7

20 08 2010
Kelly Huddleston, 10th grade, Racine Unified Gymanstics Team

This was my signature "hold" on beam during my sophomore year of high school when I competed on the Racine Unified Gymnastics Team. I couldn't get into this position particularly gracefully, but it was a sight to behold once I was there. I also couldn't get out of it very well.

If it were a 2.7 out of 3, that would be pretty good.  Out of 10, that’s another matter.

I was a competitive gymnast in high school.  Beam was my specialty.  The beam is 4’ high, 4” wide, and 16’ long.  I like to brag that I competed at the State Championships on beam my sophomore year.  However, I truly sucked at competing.

I had always loved gymnastics.  My early heroes in the sport were Nadia Comaneci, Kristi Phillips, and Aurelia Dobre.  From an early age, I discovered I was incredibly flexible, had a good sense of balance and was fairly coordinated, so of course, I would be good at gymnastics.

Nadia Comaneci

Nadia Comaneci

Kristi Phillips

Kristi Phillips

Aurelia Dobre

Aurelia Dobre (My varsity routine mount was similar to this.)

I took my first class when I was seven.  I remember the coaches being amazed on the first night when we were stretching, and they asked us all to do the splits.  I could do hyper-extended splits in all three directions.  I don’t remember much more about that class other than on the last night, I hyper-extended my knee on a front handspring vault.  To this day, I fear the vault.

Jump ahead to middle school, and I took gymnastics every summer during summer school.  My coaches had a standing offer to buy anyone a coke who could do a forward roll, backward roll, and cartwheel on the high beam without falling off.  I was the only person that summer to win the coke.

Jump ahead to high school.  Besides those few classes in elementary and middle school, I never took regular lessons.  I did practice at home a lot and taught myself several skills on our furniture.  I ruined a lot of carpet and couch cushions in the process.  I went out for gymnastics my freshman year and I was on the Level 4 compulsory team.  I only competed on beam and floor that year, doing pretty well in both.  I tried to avoid vaulting at all costs and I didn’t like bars because I had—and still have—comparatively little upper body strength.  (I later competed a handspring vault once and took sixth place, but it scared the heck out of me.  Not once did I compete on bars.)

One-armed handstand on beam

This is what my one-armed handstand would have looked like had I ever successfully competed it.

My parents let me take classes between my freshman and sophomore year, and at the start of my sophomore year, I was given the opportunity to compete on beam on the varsity squad at our first home meet.  I was ecstatic to say the least!  I had a beautiful routine with lots of originality and some difficult moves like a one-armed handstand in a straddle split.

With my mom, coach, teammates and friends looking on, I saluted the judges and mounted the beam with my signature shoulder stand in a straddle split.  I gracefully made my way to standing up, ready for my first series (two connected cartwheels).  I fell after the first one.  No big deal.  Nerves, right?  I fell after the second cartwheel, too.  So not only did I lose 1.0 point (0.5 for each fall) but I also lost the points for the connection.  Next I set up for my leap series.  My coach always commented on how beautiful my leaps were.  I was very proud of my leaps.  I fell on both of them.  Another 1.0+ gone from the score.  I did some dance or jump moves setting up for my next tumbling pass, two connected back walkovers.  I fell again after the first one.  As I got back up, I started laughing, and I fell again before I even made it all the way up.  Guess what happened next?  I fell after my second back walkover.  I got up and got ready for my dismount, a barani (a round off without using your hands).  I should mention that I had never tried this dismount before.  Never.  Yup, I fell on that one, too, and landed flat on my butt.  Eight falls in all.  My score was a 2.7.  I’m pretty sure that was a pity score.  If scores could have been negative, I bet that routine would have qualified. 

My coach tried to morph into the wall.  My teammates didn’t really say much.  The only thing I remember my mom saying to me on the way home was, “At least you fall very gracefully.”

Despite my epic failure during that first meet, my coach gave me a second chance.  With the help of another teammate, I came up with a new routine and some beautiful moves that highlighted my flexibility.  I showed my coach on the floor beam, and he gave me a thumbs-up to compete at the next varsity meet. 

Kelly Huddleston, Racine Unified Gymnastics Team

Another of my favorite "holds" on beam. The scanner cut off the top, but I was actually in a hyper-extended split leaning off the side of the beam. (All these b&w pictures were scanned from my yearbooks. I love the writing on the page.)

I salute gracefully, mount solidly, and prepare for my first tumbling pass—a front walkover followed by a cartwheel.  As I prepared for the front walkover, I came to a horrified realization that I had never done this skill on a high beam.  Never.  In the span of maybe two seconds, I glanced at my coach with a desperate look on my face, and silently asked, “What do I do?”  He responded by shrugging his shoulders with a peculiar look on his face—a cross between “I can’t believe you put in a move you’ve never done before AGAIN” and “This isn’t going to be pretty.”  I decided to go for it, and all was well for a split second.  My first foot actually landed on the beam, and I concentrated on staying tight and square so I can stand up without falling.  However, it was not meant to be, and as I strained to attain a vertical position, my foot slid off the beam, and my entire leg scraped the side as I came crashing to the floor.  That fall, unlike my many others, actually hurt. A lot.  I remember glancing at my coach, and he turned and walked away.  Not exactly a vote of confidence, but I couldn’t blame him.  I somehow finished the routine fairly well, cutting my falls in half to only four.  I think my score even made it into the 4.0 range.

Horlick students on the Racine Unified Gymanstics Team, 88-89

I'm in the middle.

When the next meet approached and there was an open spot on beam, my coach held a contest to see who would claim it.  Whoever had the best routine during practice got the spot.  It was between me and another girl who was a year younger than me, and we were silent, sworn enemies on the beam.  Despite the fact that I completely sucked during competition, I could kick butt during practice.  I aced my routine and didn’t fall once!  My coach was amazed.  Everyone was.  I fell a few less times at the next meet, and I was getting better and more confident.  Thankfully, you could throw out the lowest score on each event (for the team total) so it was assumed that would be mine.

I remained the alternate on beam on the varsity squad through the season, traveling with my team to our district, regional, sectional, and eventually state championships.  This was the first time our team had ever qualified for state.  I got to go along for the ride as the alternate, never thinking I’d have to compete, actually hoping I wouldn’t have to compete.  My hopes were dashed when our number two girl severely injured her ankle on vault during warm-ups.  She was out of the competition completely, meaning all of us alternates were now in.  Since our team had already had our practice time on beam, I was left to run through my routine on a floor beam in a back room.  We were all shaken by our teammate’s injury, but I somehow pulled off one of my best routines.  It certainly was not state meet worthy in terms of style or difficulty, but for me, I was pretty happy considering the circumstances.

I continued to practice and compete my junior year, but I quit after that.  My coach basically stopped coaching me and left me to fend for myself in the gym.  I ended up spending most of my time jumping on the trampoline.  Needless to say, this didn’t further my competitive skills.  I concentrated on other activities my senior year, but shortly after I graduated from high school I got my first coaching job at our YMCA.  I have coached everything from mom and tot classes through assistant coaching my college team at UWEC.  I coached for over 13 years, quitting for good only after the birth of my first son.

Kelly Huddleston, 6 months pregnant, 2002

I was six months pregnant with my first son when this picture was taken. I can still do full 180-degree right and left leg splits, but after having two children naturally, I will never again be able to perform a full middle split.

Two curious things occurred during my coaching years.  One, I found I was actually a better gymnast than I ever was during my competitive years.  I could finally perform moves I was never able to in high school.  Two, I found my pathetic competitive experiences made me a more compassionate coach.  I could empathize very easily with scared, nervous little girls.

Kelly Huddleston, 6 months pregnant, 2002

One summer in college, I coached gymnastics at a girl's camp in Maine, Camp Vega.

I miss gymnastics terribly.  I think about it every day of my life.  Every. Day.  I find myself performing turns, leaps and handstands when no one is looking.  My cartwheels are still the finest around.  If I wasn’t teaching full time, I’d probably be coaching full time.  I don’t know if I’ll ever get back into the sport in any way, but the lessons I learned from my competitive and coaching years will continue to bless me in the years to come.





11 responses

20 08 2010

[…] My Score was a 2.7 « To Kick a Pigeon and Other Musings […]

20 08 2010
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[…] My Score was a 2.7 « To Kick a Pigeon and Other Musings […]

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Body Workout 101

My Score was a 2.7…

I found your entry interesting do I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)…

26 08 2010

I had no idea you did this! This is amazing!!! 🙂

27 08 2010
work from home

Its a great post.i will definitely share it with my friends.

27 08 2010

I had no idea you were a gymnast! I’ve been reading little bits of this post all through the week, and I think it’s pretty cool that you competed, even if your score was a 2.7. 🙂 I took classes when I was a toddler and loved them, but stopped and I haven’t done a good cartwheel since.

27 08 2010

interesting. I did not know that you were a gymnast

27 08 2010

I really enjoyed reading this
A) because I didn’t know you were this fantastic at gymnastics and
B) i feel like I can kinda relate, despite the fact that I dance and dont ever compete, but it felt very relatable.
Thanks for sharing your story with us!

29 08 2010

This was a very fun post to read, Mrs. Huddleston! I have to say that my favorite part was your very vivid description of your beam routine during the first home meet of your sophomore year. 🙂

29 08 2010

You always wonder about your teachers and what they were like at our age, this is a great story!

22 09 2010
Run Kelly Run (part 1) « To Kick a Pigeon and Other Musings

[…] was a gymnast in high school.  (You can read about that experience on my post “My Score Was a 2.7.”)  I really did love the sport, but it was also one of the few sports where I didn’t have […]

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