A little context not that it should matter. Although you know what’s strange, when I tell people about my life before, it seems for some, as though the nature of that life means that for me to get sick was so big a tragedy, as if had I lived a different kind of life, perhaps it wouldn’t have been so bad. For me that sparks amusement mixed with curiosity, like if I’d had lived a quieter life, a sedentary life perhaps, a life without drive, ambition, purpose it would have been ok? Is it ok for some people to get sick and not others?
Of course not, and I’m sure were they to consider what they were really implying, they’d find it ridiculous too. A half raised brow and a wry smile usually sends the message, but sometimes it’s necessary to clarify. I don’t care whether someone has spent their entire life running marathons, or sat on their arse watching reality TV’s latest fodder, its about choice, and then having that choice taken from you.
So who was I before?
I was a normal kid, kind of. A bouncy energetic kid who went to a gymnastic class at five years old and found their home. A kid who ended up training 27 hours a week over six days through childhood and adolescence, with nothing but love for the sport. A kid who was lucky enough to find their life’s passion early on in chalk dust, and pit foam, a kid who learned how to fly. Perhaps not such a normal kid then, but what is normal?
At sixteen I stepped out of the gym, out of the regimen, the discipline, the every hour of every day accounted for. My mum always says to me that in adolescence, without gymnastics she thinks I’d have been trouble, that I was a wild heart, a free spirit, and she was right. When I stepped out of the gym I drank in freedom in it’s every form, the good, the bad, and the very very ugly. At 18 I took myself off to Greece for the summer, worked in bars, danced in clubs because I wanted to experience it, and because none of my friends wanted to, I did it on my own. This was back before smart phones, any mobile phones, no email, just a few phone boxes that rarely ever connected to home, and even when they did, it was a quick five minute I’m still alive chat before it ate all my Drachma. This was before everyone went travelling, before it was a rite of passage, in fact I was the only one from my town to just spend my wings at such a young age. Hard to imagine for today’s constantly connected, youth, but there was a time when if you went, you really went, and you sorted anything that came your way out yourself, because there was no other way.
This was only the mid 90’s, seemingly another world now, and not just because the world as I knew it would close in on me and lock me in an invisible cage before we even reached the new century. So I went adventuring because that was me, I loved life and grabbed it with both hands. When I came back, well it was the time of raving or clubbing all weekend every weekend, flying high Friday and Saturdays nights, the new summers of love, ecstasy booming, cool Britannia I think the media labelled it, Generation X in the full bloom of youth, full of life in the way only the invincibility of those tender years can deceive you to believe. Gently coming down on acid and weak pills on Sundays, drag yourself through Monday to Wednesday, have a build up Thursday local night out, then it’s Friday, time to go again. Pulp Fiction, Trainspotting the first time round, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, debauched hedonism the theme of a generation, or for some of us. Where were you while we were getting high? Amazing for nearly two years, then you stay in that scene long enough and it becomes grotty, the people, the places, the drugs all get harder, till you find yourself in a caravan in the woods with your best friend and a guy called Bob nearly 20 years older than you, and Bob isn’t interested in pills and acid, dancing all night, filled with chemical love, arms held high, Bob likes crack, heroin, and 20 year old girls. You reach that point where you see where you’re headed and you teeter, then you choose. You pull yourself out, or you don’t, and I did. Completely.
So I’d been lost for a little while, took things too far, but although those first two worlds read as worlds apart, they’re not so different. To be an elite athlete you have to have the type of personality that will give absolutely everything to whatever it is you’re are doing, great if whatever that is happens to be positive, but if it doesn’t, you’re going to give it your all anyway.
So I stepped out of the dysfunction disguised as hedonism, took some time to be clear headed and think, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I went back to gymnastics, back home, and I started teaching. Turns out I was pretty good at it, a good technical coach, a good motivator, I got great results from my gymnasts, I knew that this would be how I spent my life, the girl who learned to fly taught others to fly, and I considered myself the luckiest person in the world because as far as I was concerned I’d never work a day in my life, if you do your passion for a living, it’s not work.
So there I am, happy, so happy, fulfilled, in love with my life. My dream career right on track, a boyfriend who may or may not have lasted as we were still only young, great friends, with the world I had chosen at my feet. Healthy of course, I’d always been healthy, like ridiculously healthy, I think other than injuries, and the usual mumps chickenpox ect that we all had as children, I’d had tonsillitis once in my life when I kissed someone I probably should have, and that was it.
So what happened to the girl who could fly? She was caught, shot down, her wings taken. Grounded, she was left to fade into a ghost.
How? That’s for the next post……….