My High School Journey- Part I

Prologue

Yesterday, on Friday June 3rd 2016, my fellow classmates and I graduated high school.

Is this even real? The reality of graduating- the closing of the first chapter of our lives and the beginning of a new one, leaving behind old friends and peers whom we’ve known since childhood- it’s all beginning to hit me. Hard.

Yet this time should not be one of mourning, but one of the greatest celebration. To my fellow class of 2016- You guys, we graduated high school! We passed arguably the biggest milestone to date. OUR LIVES START NOW! We are off onto our individual journey’s, whether it’s going to college, trade school, or straight into the work force. These past thirteen years, from Kindergarten to senior year, have culminated to this very moment, and I could not be more excited for what lies ahead for each and every one of you guys.

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Chp. 1: Freshman Year (2012-2013)

“If you expect the world to be fair with you because you are fair, you’re fooling yourself. That’s like expecting the lion not to eat you because you didn’t eat him.”

I came to Carlmont high school a confident, eager, bubbly little freshman. I remember strutting on campus the first day of high school, rockin’ my red blazer, white shorts, and matching red Toms, excited not only because I was FINALLY  a high schooler, but also because my mom had done my eyeliner in black pencil that day and I felt extra pretty. I remember walking into the student union to get my student ID picture taken, my mom standing in the background, engaged in sentimental conversation with fellow parents. I remember feeling extremely pleased with that year’s photo (although the next two years’ pictures would continue to haunt me), and giving my mom a hug goodbye before I stumbled my way to first period P.E., asking at least three people directions to the now all-too-familiar Terry Stogner Gymnasium. I remember meeting Clara, a fellow freshman who had just come from living in Italy for several months. Little did I know that, four years from then, Clara would be one of three Carlmont students (’16) attending Stanford University. I also met Rachel, an incredibly sweet cheerleader whom I shared three classes with that year- and two classes with senior year- who will be attending UC Berkeley this fall. The two of us hit it off, talking about her passion for cheer, and mine for gymnastics.

Ahh… gymnastics… The source of my greatest joy, greatest heartbreak, greatest growth… Going into freshman year of high school, I was still a competitive gymnast, training for the ’12-’13 competitive season as level 9. Despite the excitement I felt for high school, I still prioritized my sport over school. I was not thinking about getting into college- at the time, I knew of the competitive nature of the college admissions process, but since college felt light years away, I paid it little attention. Instead, I channeled most of my energy towards gymnastics, like I had been doing since elementary school, and had a goal of making the US rhythmic gymnastics national team.

Looking back, my freshman year mindset was one of intense passion but also distortion- I didn’t care much about forming lasting friendships, or excelling academically, or spending time with family- all I wanted was gymnastics. Gymnastics was my first love, but it was also my comfort zone. So little Belicia, at fourteen years of age, devoted her life to her sport, tunnel-visioned, looking only ten feet in front, rather than a hundred miles ahead. Did I think I would still be a competitive gymnast at age twenty-five? Probably not. But I refused to confront a life without gymnastics- the prospect was simply too scary. Did I worry about the chronic joint pain I’d experience years after my competitive career ended, owing to the repeated physical stress of the sport? Not at all- it was simply one of the many prices you had to pay. Carrying that tunnel-visioned mindset into high school, I had no interest in joining clubs, getting involved in student government, or, worst of all, nurturing friendships. Don’t get me wrong- my freshman year self was incredibly energetic and friendly, similar to the way I am now. The difference is, four years ago, I held myself with an “I’m above it all”  kind of attitude, turning down birthday party invitations and outings with friends with the classic “I’m sorry, but I have [something related to gymnastics]”. The truth is, I felt that I had all the friends I needed in my little world of gymnastics- teammates, coaches, competitors from other gyms. Again, we see the same pattern of refusing to look beyond where I felt confident and comfortable.

Then the injury happened. It was nearing the end of first semester freshman year, around November. The physical toil of the sport finally caught up to me, and I could no longer avoid going to the doctor for examination of my inflamed knees. Truth be told, when the doctor told me I had to take a long break from the sport, I was neither devastated nor angry. I was in complete denial of the severity of the tendinitis. I knew this injury would be a small setback, but it was nothing I couldn’t handle, right? That winter, I was still trying to convince my parents to let me switch to online schooling so I could focus more time towards my declining gymnastics career. I believed wholeheartedly that I could overcome this injury.

So the months passed. Physical therapy was tedious. Acupuncture provided only momentary pain relief. During that time, school was just school- a place I had to be, an obstruction to my ultimate goal of healing and getting back to what I loved. After three months with minimal improvement in my knee condition, I lost my patience. Somehow, I convinced my parents to let me go back to the gym- just one training. I was happy as a clam, being back in my gym. I resumed my goal of competing that season, with hopes of making level 10. The knee pain was still there, but I didn’t care. I tasted life without my passion- three months with no gymnastics. It was colorless, dull, listless. I hated it.

You can see where this story takes a turn. Going back to training full-force, with a preexisting injury, gritting my teeth through the pain that only intensified. Reinjury was inevitable. That spring, around March, I quit for good. There was a finality at that fateful doctor’s appointment that extinguished all hope within me of ever returning to gymnastics again. Dreams crushed. Heart broken. At fifteen years old, I experienced my first real adversity- the loss of a passion, dream, and life.

I fell into depression. I became socially withdrawn, unwilling to speak to my peers at school. I had a lot of bitterness in my heart at the time- I didn’t know what I had done to deserve the injury. I worked harder than most gymnasts; I sacrificed everything. It wasn’t fair, it just wasn’t. And so I grieved.

By the end of freshman year, I was no longer that sweet, bubbly, vivacious girl I was at the start of the year. I was in pain. Instead of signing yearbooks the last day of freshman year, I sat in a corner, watching videos of gymnasts on my iPad mini, in tears. I felt a void in my heart that I didn’t know how to fill.

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