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Rhythmic Diaries: 'I Can Do it if I Just Focus'

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Amanda and Elaine Dai are sisters and competitive rhythmic gymnasts who train at Rhythmic Dreams in Newton, Massachusetts. "Rhythmic Diaries" is their account of balancing training and competing in this rigorous sport with being normal high school students.

I barely avoid crashing into yet another girl as she obliviously leaps straight towards me. I grunt in frustration when she continues practicing in the space I was working in, forcing me to navigate the carpet in search for new spot -- no easy task, considering how every inch of the carpet is occupied by another gymnast.

The carpet is packed with girls, leaving little to no space for leaping. I wait on relevé with my hoop steady by my hip, ready to go as soon as an opening reveals itself. For a while, I remain within the same vicinity; once or twice I had lurched forward at the hint of an opening, only to be blown back when someone else managed to cut in. After a while, however, my patience runs out. If I was ever going to move on, I'd have to plow my way through. Taking a deep breath, I step into a chassé and take off.

At first, I somehow manage to evade crashing into anyone by making a haphazard route through the labyrinth of girls. However, by my second leap, my focus shifts to relishing the thought that I had successfully made it so far. In the middle of my leap, my right hand passes the hoop to my left under my back leg. I expect to feel the familiar pressure of the hoop meeting my left hand, but instead I hear a whipping noise as it collides with the brick wall. A bolt of panic shoots through me -- this element has never been a problem, so why couldn't I execute it now?

I have to pull myself together before my turn comes, I think. Just focus -- I can do it if I focus. I take a few deep breaths and return to my work.

When I step on the carpet all too soon, I'm still thinking 'focus, focus.' I keep my attention trained on my hoop, and as the music begins I'm careful to stay concentrated on my present element. The routine flows smoothly; I mess up one handling combination but quickly recover and complete the skills after that. I even execute the handling in my turning leaps succesfully. As the routine draws to a close, I feel pricks of satisfaction sprouting in my chest. All that's left now is my last toss, which I have never dropped at competition. Excitement runs through me as I toss the hoop and do a chaîné roll. I watch as the hoop approaches -- coming closer and closer, exactly where I need it. I lift up into a candle and open my legs to catch the hoop; it comes, collides with my left leg as I land on my stomach from the fishflop, and flies out of the carpet.

At first I feel nothing. My mind, numb and unsure of how to respond, goes blank. I had just finished my consummate routine without apparatus. I had dropped the risk [toss] I had never dropped before. And to top it off, my toss was perfect. I stumble to retrieve my hoop and salute the judges with the best smile I can muster. I turn around, still dazed, and start to exit the carpet. While walking off, anger finally starts to kick in. Hot tears sting the edges of my eyes, and as I slowly begin to realize what just happened, I want to punch myself more than ever.

Why couldn't I have just focused a second longer? I had seen the hoop coming right where I needed it, and yet I still didn't catch it. I was caught up in what had already happened but didn't concentrate on what I was doing. And when that happened, in that split second when it happened, it cost me my risk. I could've prevented it, but I lost myself. I bite my cheek hard as frustration swells in my head. When the tears escape and the sobbing commences, my coach doesn't comfort me; instead, she offers one piece of advice.

"Move on to ball," she said. "There's nothing you can do about it anymore. You should've thought about it when you were in the moment; but now, it's too late. Go on to something you can still control."

It takes me a long time to finally calm down. Eventually, I force myself to put down my hoop and pick up ball. My practice is messy and unfocused, as I have not completely shaken off the memories of my last toss. However, as time progresses, I start to feel less crushed and more determined to do my best in ball. I repeat to myself: Focus on the present.

This time, when my name is called, I deliver everything.