Gymnastics, Grace, Deliverance
So my experience as a gymnast was quite different, but I never shared those things with my teammates. I didn't want there to be just another thing that separated us.
I was also in an environment surrounded by drugs. There was a lot going on.
Did gymnastics help to keep you away from the drugs?
No, it didn't. Drugs were in my home. It was so common that I didn't even realize the legal issues surrounding it until I was in college. That's how common it was, not only for my household but my surroundings.
I imagine that the drugs created even more of a tension between your setting in the gym and your setting at home.
Here's a story I didn't share in the book. I remember one of my teammates coming over to play on a Saturday after practice. We just did what girls do. We played around and had fun for a couple hours. Then my father came home with his friends, and they were about to do what they usually did. I remember being so embarrassed because I thought that they would do their drugs while she was in the house. I didn't want that to happen, so I begged my mother to ask daddy to wait until after this girl leaves before they start doing that, because I would be so embarrassed. That was one of the struggles that I had.
We grew marijuana in the house as though it was a houseplant. So when a gymnast came over, I would pray that they wouldn't recognize what kind of plants those were. They never did.
It was rough for me. On the one hand, I was trying to hide this other life from my teammates. On the other hand, if I used proper English around my cousins or other family members, they would make fun of me and say that I was trying to be white. Here I am, this little black girl, and I didn't fit in socially at the gym. Yet I didn't fit into the environment I was growing up around, either, because I was a gymnast and I had been exposed to things others hadn't been exposed to. It was a difficult time for me.
Do you feel that gymnastics broadened your horizons? Did it give you a larger sense of life's possibilities? In that sense, do you think gymnastics helped you out of a setting of drugs and violence?
Yes, absolutely. I know that God used gymnastics to save me. Gymnastics saved me from a lot of madness and mess. I have people I went to school with who are dead now, or who are strung out on drugs, or who are on welfare having multiple children to collect more welfare. Had I not had gymnastics practice to go to, to keep me out of that environment, that would have been me. I am sure of it. Had I not had gymnastics at UCLA and mandatory drug testing, that would have been me. I was not a strong person. I grew up in a household where there was some verbal abuse and things going on that caused me to withdraw and not share with people. I was very quiet and had all these stresses on my mind.
I think gymnastics just did wonders, especially in terms of exposing me to the lifestyles of other people. I look back and I am thankful that God had me traveling the world while I was young, had me staying in the homes of people who had different types of careers. I saw that there was more to life than my city block.