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Rhythmic Diaries: Learning to Just Have Fun

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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.

How can I compete today? I wonder pessimistically as my legs wobble in exhaustion from our Saturday ballet session. I sigh heavily and check the rotation, hoping that I will go soon. Today our gym hosts a mock competition in preparation for Regionals, which will take place two weeks later. I wipe the sweat that runs down my forehead and fan my face with my hands.

If I'm going to get through this competition, I have to preserve my energy, I conclude as fatigue begins to creep along my muscles. I walk over to the bleachers where my gym bag has erupted, its contents sprawled all over the floor. I drink in an attempt to calm the familiar fluttering in my stomach. Although it's a mock competition, I feel far from prepared.

Finally the time arrives for me to do my hoop routine -- my favorite. Although the weight of the rounded plastic is comforting, my usual confidence is lacking. I breathe deeply and clear my mind, telling myself that this isn't anything new. I've done this before, so I can do it now. I step onto the carpet, lift my chin up, and push out all thoughts besides my routine.

The minute and a half is over all too soon. I realize that the hiatus since my previous competition has taken its toll. My routine was messy; nothing was finished with precision, and my elements didn't count. Disappointed by my poor performance, I salute half-heartedly and exit the carpet, trying to hide my frustration.

I can do this, I think, picking up my ball and finding a spot to begin practicing. I did a bad hoop routine at Coaches Cup and managed to move on; I have to do that now. I want to go out and show everything I can do, but I worry about inconsistent skills. Uncertainty soon has me practicing my routine over and over. The announcer calls my name, and suddenly I find myself on the carpet again.

The first thing I do in my routine sends my ball rolling swiftly across the carpet. Shocked and frantic at such a mistake, I scramble after it. Disheartened that my chance to perform this routine at its absolute best has vanished, mistake after mistake follows. I try to pull myself together and end strongly, but it's too late -- the music draws to a close, and I walk off the carpet furious at myself again.

Reality hits hard when I return to my gym bag. All of the memories of my mistakes flood back to me, and soon despair and anger overwhelm me. I cry relentlessly; my whole body spasms while tears streak down my cheeks. I was so stupid! My resentment heightens as I try to curb the tears, but as I replay the routine in my head, I'm hit by a new wave of frustration. I'm so consumed in my anger that when my friend approaches and begins to speak to me, I don't notice at first.

"Honestly, Amanda, just go out there and have fun," she advises. I look at her expectantly, waiting for her to continue, but she has finished talking. When we return to practice, I tuck her advice away and change to clubs rather reluctantly, since it is the routine I struggle with most. Soon I hear my name announced again. As if on command, my nerves instantly start jumping. My muscles tense in apprehension and my mind becomes distracted.

Deep breaths, I think, trying to compose myself. I try to think positive thoughts but run out of ideas quickly until a small voice in my head says, "Just have fun."

Just have fun, huh? I consider it for a moment. What restrains me from having fun? I wonder. And who can make me have fun? The answer comes simply: me.

Throughout the routine, even though I fumble with easy handlings, I avoid getting discouraged by mistakes and keep smiling. By the end, I walk off the carpet overflowing with joy. Truthfully, my routine wasn't even close to perfect, but what matters is I tried my best and enjoyed myself. No regrets.