Pinball Wizard

I mentioned in my last post that I used to do gymnastics as a kid. I did it for a long time, and the main reason nothing became of it (career-wise) was that I only dedicated 1 hour once a week for a bunch of years instead of the minimum 4 hours, 5 days a week for a bunch of years that the pros put in. (And anyone who has watched the show Make It or Break It knows that if you want to be the very best, you put in something like every waking hour of your life for a bunch of years.) I also found that as I grew older, my body became ill-suited for the trials and tribulations of gymnastics.

The uneven bars, a women’s gymnastics apparatus, is where my current story takes place. The uneven bars as we are familiar with today are quite different from the uneven bars in the 1950s. Today, the uneven bars are held together by cables and have an adjustable diagonal distance between the two bars varying between 4.3 – 5.9 feet (as depicted below).

Modern Uneven Bars

This allows for more fluid movements between the bars, and makes it highly difficult to be touching both bars simultaneously. Back in the 1950s, the uneven bars were very different. They more closely resembled the mens’ parallel bars, only at different heights. Practically speaking, the bars were much closer to each other (as depicted below).

1950s Uneven Bars

I grew up on the 1950s styled uneven bars, as that’s what they had in my gym. Many of the skills we’d do specifically involved contact with both bars simultaneously. But because of the ever-changing height of kids, we were always adjusting the height and distance between the bars to suit each gymnast.

At the time of this story, I was in my early teens and had been doing gymnastics for many years. As such, I knew my bars settings by heart. It was the first class of the year, having just come back from a summer break. I set the bars to my desired heights, and proceeded to do my routine from the end of the previous year. Unfortunately for me, I’d had a growth spurt over the summer and the bars should have been slightly farther apart than they were.

What should have happened: I was in a front support on the high bar facing out. I was supposed to swing my legs back, straddle the high bar with the soles of my feet on the bar, swinging around the bar in a circle. (Imagine a side view: the high bar is the point in the center of a circle, and over the course of the skill, my butt creates the outer circumference of the circle, with my arms and legs being the radius throughout.)

What actually happened: I was in a front support on the high bar facing out. I swung my legs back, separating my feet to rest my soles on the high bar in a straddle. So far so good. All I had to do was let gravity start me off by pushing my butt in a downward arc. And I did. Except due to my new height, the low bar interfered with my butt. The bars themselves were made out of a somewhat flexible wood, and so upon contact, the low bar thrust me upward, causing me to ram my head into the high bar. And so it continued for about a minute – bouncing between the two bars, hitting my butt on the low bar and my head on the high bar, until I eventually released my hold of the bar for an unceremonious dismount. I collapsed on the mat in a heap of pain. Don’t worry. I was fine. Not even a concussion – just a bit of bruising. Sure, I couldn’t sit for a couple of weeks, but most of the damage was psychological. The bars had won, and I was too scared to bother finding a new setting for my new height. Besides, I still had beam, vault and floor to get better at. Who needs uneven bars anyway? I decided it was not worth the risk of playing human pinball again.


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