I was born in Edmond, Oklahoma on March 28th. I almost entered the world without a name. Mom liked common names and Dad liked unique ones. Mom wanted to name me Jennifer, but Dad wanted to call me Virginia. Mom would have called me Jenny anyway so Ginny was close enough for both of them to be happy. My middle name is Lynn and that was never an argument. On Mom’s side of the family it is a tradition for all the daughters to have Lynn as their middle name. So Mom is Roberta Lynn, my sister is Samantha Lynn and I am Ginny Lynn. When people ask me my full name, they think I am saying Gillian. I still respond when someone calls me that. One time a teacher called me Gillian and this one kid who was a bully started teasing me by calling me Gilligan.
Like younger siblings, I wanted to do everything my older sister did. Sammie was old enough to climb on the jungle gym. I was barely walking at the time. One day Mom looked out and I was already half way up. I looked so much in control no one stopped me. I also liked to turn somersaults in the grass. Sammie took dance lessons so I did, too. But after a while it got boring. I wanted something a little more challenging. One year I asked Santa for a trampoline for Christmas. Mom and Dad said a trampoline would cost Santa too much money. Eventually, they did find one for a discount price so I did get my wish.
No matter where I was going or what I was doing, I always made up a little gymnastics routine on my way. If I had to clean my room I would do a cartwheel over to where my clothes were and then somersault back to my closet. I would pretend to do a balance beam routine on the lines on the linoleum floor. When I got a little older, I would pretend the porch railing was a balance beam. I would straddle the railing and swing my legs back and forth. Mom used to be afraid I would fall when I would walk across it. Every street curb became and balance beam and every swing set was an uneven bar. I rarely had to buy new shoes since I was always walking on my hands.
When I was five years old, I saw gymnastics on television and I said, “Mom, I want to do that.” She signed me up for gymnastics classes until I decided I wanted to do something else, or so she thought. As it turned out I didn’t want to do anything, but that.
At first, we started out with just some front and back somersaults as well as some easy tumbling. It took me a little while to master the cartwheel since I couldn’t seem to keep my legs straight in the air. I taught myself how to do an aerial cartwheel. I would start off running and then in the middle, I would bring my hands up and swing my legs around so hopefully I would land on my feet. Eventually, I started running faster and bringing my hands up sooner. We also learned the handstand, headstand and front and back handsprings.
When I was seven, I was introduced to all the apparatuses involved in a gymnastics competition: the uneven bars, the balance beam, the vault and the floor exercise. My favorite was the floor.
Tina Panettiere was my gymnastics teacher. Her daughter, April, was my best friend. April was actually born in January, but her parents like the name so much it would have mattered when she was born. Tina had built the gym from the ground up so April would have a place to train. She had been doing gymnastics since she was three years old. Tina had been national gymnastics champion, but had never made it to the World Championships or the Olympics so she made April train extra hard. I am not sure if April would have chosen that life for herself. If she did not perform a stunt correctly Tina would say, “You have legs muscles for a reason. If you don’t use them then no friends over for a week” Any spare time April had was spent at the gym.
When she would do a tumbling pass Tina would say, “Good. No do it 500 more times.” Good wasn’t good enough. It had to be perfect. One time April told me sometimes after practice she could hardly walk because the bottoms of her feet were so raw. April was home schooled and Tina wanted her to graduate when she was sixteen so she could focus solely on gymnastics. If I had wanted to quit gymnastics, Mom would have let me. April didn’t have a choice in the matter.
At the end of the year we had a test. We had a list of stunts we were supposed to be able to perform. One year, I surprised even Tina. I was supposed to do a tumbling pass that consisted of a round off and two back handsprings. I landed my first back handspring a little early and didn’t have time to get my hands in place for the next one. I just pushed off with my feet and flung my entire body backwards. Without realizing it, I had completed my first whip back. When I got my test form back, Tina had advanced me two levels. I was able to compete on the junior level.
I was asked to join the cheerleading squad at my school. I didn’t have to try out. They knew I took gymnastic lessons and thought I would be an asset. So now when I wasn’t doing gymnastics or homework, my time was spent at cheerleading practice.
I was a flyer. The flyer is the person that is up in the air during a stunt. They are the main focus of the stunt. The flyer had to keep their body tight throughout the entire stunt. Sometimes I would not be part of the stunt. When we performed at basketball games, which were indoors, the other members would get in a formation and then I would run out in front of them and do a tumbling pass. Other times I would do a round off and drop into the splits in front of the formation. Sometimes the squad captain would get jealous because even though she could do back handsprings, my tumbling was usually more difficult and received more applause.
When I was fourteen, I was at the World Championships. I had scored two perfect tens on the balance beam at the international meet. At the Worlds, I won two silver medals on the uneven bars and in the team competition. I also place second in the Compulsory portion.
One year, I broke and dislocated my elbow. I missed the Individual Apparatus competition. And I would have had a great chance at winning the uneven bars and the balance beam. I competed in the Nationals where I won, beating out the fan favorite, who was also my teammate. But I had to pull out of the Optional competition.
I won the compulsory and the entire individual portion of the team competition and qualified to compete for the all around competition where I won three more medals: silver on beam and bronze on floor and bars. That year I performed sixteen routines without getting seriously hurt.
I qualified in first place for every event in the preliminary round at the World Championships. I won gold on bars and floor exercise, but fell three times on the balance beam. I was battling the stomach flu, which made me withdraw from the vault.
Next year, I won gold on the floor and the beam, which I had missed out on last year. I also won second in the all around US Nationals.
I struggled with injuries, fatigue and a growth spurt. I lost at the Nationals and had a chance of being World Champion, but had injured my ankle. I had severe tendentious in my left wrist, but won the Individual Apparatus. I placed second at the compulsory. I was sitting in second place in the all around, but my wrist was in poor shape. It had only gotten worse since Nationals. I had two cortisone injections, but failed to complete a new skill on the floor due to a hamstring injury, which made it difficult for me to pike. I also crashed badly in the vault.
On the last day of competition, I knew I had only one chance left to earn a medal. I ended winning gold on balance beam. I became known as The Porcelain Princess. No matter how good or bad I was feeling or how good or bad I had done, I always smiled at the beginning and end of my routine.
Afterwards, I did go to college and earned a degree in sports medicine. I work at the local gym. It’s nice to see the young kids and the coaches smile after completing a routine perfectly. I also run a gymnastics clinic for kids on the weekends. Sometimes after hours I will stick around and do a couple of tumbling passes or an easy bars routine.