Growing up, my love was gymnastics, and while of course my teammates and I idolized the athletes in the Olympics, the mere fact that we only saw them on TV made them feel untouchable and often not even real. Instead, our “want to be like her” role models came from the University of Denver gymnastics team. Most Friday nights in season, we’d beg our parents to drive us during rush hour to their home meets, the car ride buzzing with the electricity of a group of middle schoolers speculating about who the coaches might put in the competition line up that week, recalling every fall and every stuck landing from the previous meet.

The year I was in 8th grade, my favorite DU gymnast was a freshman named Michelle. I loved everything about the way she competed, from her choice of floor music, which got the crowd clapping along every time she performed, to the way she quietly smiled to herself through her entire beam routine, seemingly unfazed by the pressure of anchoring the rotation as a rookie. I memorized her leap passes, tumbling combinations and transition poses, so I could incorporate them in my own routines later. When I got nervous before my own meets, I’d try to channel that same quiet and relaxed focus she radiated.

The last home meet of that season included a post-competition meet and greet. Everyone in the stands was invited down to the floor to meet and hang out with the athletes. My teammates and I nearly tumbled down the stairs when the time came, pushing each other out of the way as we sprinted. It wasn’t until I was standing eye to eye with Michelle that I realized it was actually happening: I was about to meet the athlete I’d been trying to emulate all season! I was about to ask her all sorts of interesting and eloquently phrased questions! I would tell her all about my own gymnastics career!

Instead…I froze. Full on deer-in-headlights, brain-completely-blank, unable-to-formulate-words-of-any-kind froze. “Oh, hi there,” she said, slightly startled when she almost stepped on me. “Thanks for coming.” In retrospect, it must have been quite a shock to turn and find a mute, panic-eyed 14 year old underfoot, not moving a muscle like she’d just been caught doing something she wasn’t supposed to. And while this would have been the perfect moment to redeem myself, tell her I looked up to her and ask her to sign my program, it wasn’t to be. “My name is Anna, and your leotard is sparkly up close,” I inexplicably blurted out instead, wanting to die immediately.

I’d love to report that things went smoothly from then, but what happened was that Michelle tried really hard not to laugh, I tried even harder to will a large abyss to open up below me to swallow me whole, and when that didn’t happen, I just silently held out my pen and program for her to sign. “I’m happy you took the initiative to come up,” she said, breaking the spell. “I get so nervous talking to new people at these things.” Turns out, Michelle’s quiet confidence belied her true feelings. She was just a regular kid after all!

The point of my story? Come to the GUM Ball! It’s not very often club and YCC players get to cross paths, and I’m excited for this event. There are so many interesting things happening in both divisions, and it would honestly be really cool to hear about them in person. And we can all either embrace the awkward little Anna inside us or put on Michelle’s best beam routine game face. Whichever camp you fall into, I hope to see you there.

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