GRIP

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Initiation

“Two laps around the building and then stretching.” Tommy instructed as they entered the gym, “Fag, three laps for you.” He smirked.

“What? Why?!” Declan exclaimed.

“Initiation.” The others muttered in sympathy. He grunted disapprovingly.

The competition area was as minimalist as they come. The six apparatuses, mats were used sparingly, and to top it all off, the score boards were manual.

After their warm up, and Declan’s initiation, they returned to the sidelines. Tommy, in a move to promote his team leadership skills, took it upon himself to deliver the pep talk.

“This meet may not seem like much, and it’s not, but these are the meets that count. These are the meets that make things like Regionals, State… Nationals, worth it. There is nothing like looking back and knowing you gave it your all, even in the smallest of meets. I know I talk a lot about throwing conservative routines, but I know how good we are… So, today, I want you to go out there and throw your big skills, risk it for the biscuit. Be one with the equipment. Don’t underestimate yourselves.” He finished.

They began their taping regimen. Gymnastics is the kind of sport that people underestimate, but little do most know exactly how demanding it can be on the human body. Perhaps above all sports, gymnastics takes an unprecedented toll on a person’s body, psyche, and emotions.

Any slight error could bring a deadly injury. It wasn’t a sport anyone can do; it takes a special kind of patience, tenacity, and stubbornness to get anywhere in gymnastics.

There are millions of contact sports players, and thousands of pro-athletes, but only a handful of elite-level gymnasts. There are better odds at being struck by lightening, getting killed by a shark, or even winning the lottery, than becoming an elite-level gymnast.

“You nervous?” Skylar asked him as he finished taping his ankle.

“Well, yes and no,” Declan looked up, “Yes, because it’s my first meet, and no, because I’m just competing for exhibition. I don’t have the added stress of worrying about placing.”

“Good. That’s good that you’re taking it in stride.” Skylar patted him on the back, “Just remember, tune everything out. Normal. Just like practice.”

Declan smiled and nodded. Skylar had become his confidant. They clicked effortlessly; he felt safe around him. They talked to each other about everything; no subject was off limits. Skylar knew all of Declan’s dilemmas and fears.

The competition began. They were all delegated to their separate rotation. Declan was in vault warm ups, the eleventh and last to go. The couple practice vaults, or timers, as they’re known, he threw were fairly floated. The nerves didn’t hit until he was saluting.

He kept thinking back to what Skylar had said. “Normal,” he repeated to himself, “Normal.”

At that moment, he heard his voice pierce through the gym over the cheering of the spectators present. It calmed him.

“NORMAL, DECLAN! C’MON!!! YOU GOT THIS!!!”

He took in one last deep breath and released it. He raced down the runway, but ran off it before he hit the vault. The crowd groaned in confusion, but he, and his contemporaries, knew that he could try his run again, unless he touched the vaulting table. It was gymnastics 101.

He shook the nerves off, looked at Skylar and nodded. Skylar nodded back.

“You got this! C’mon!” Skylar shouted, and his other teammates joined him, “C’mon, Declan! Let’s do this!” They shouted, amongst other affirmations. He felt encouraged. He felt ready.

As he retook his place at the base of the runway, he let a deep breath out and retried his vault. It lasted seconds, but he landed. His chest was a bit low, due to his lackluster block, but he stood up his Yurchenko full.

He saluted and walked off. Skylar was there to greet him with a giant hug.

“Good shit, Declan.” He smiled. Declan beamed back at him and did a small dance, “How’d it feel?”

“Amazing.” He chuckled.

“A little low, on the landing,” Coach Johnson began, but good, nonetheless, get ready for high bar.” Declan nodded in acknowledgement.

“Where’s the honey?” Declan asked around, and was, unexpectedly, approached by Tommy.

“Here you go fag. I’m surprised you didn’t go for the double, actually,” he raised his eyebrow, “I’ve seen better, but… It was alright.” He nodded and handed him the bear shaped container.

Declan knew it must have pained Tommy to have given him any sort of validation, but at least he’d been mature enough to encourage him.

The meet ended with a sigh of relief. He’d done it. He had gone out there and gotten his first competition over and done with. It had even gone better than expected.

He hit both of his other routines, and, had he actually competed, he would’ve broken the top five on Vault and High Bar. His floor routine was hit, but it wasn’t at the level of difficulty of the others in the competition.

As they drove off, he drafted a text to Gable letting him know how it’d gone. The jock responded with a gleeful text. He felt elated to have made himself proud, and even better about having made Gable proud. He meant everything to him, and to make him proud was everything.

His parents were supportive, but they didn’t really understand what he’d done. True, he desperately wanted them to care more, to possibly show a glimmer of interest in what he loved doing, but his brother, the football player in the family, was far more imperative to them.

Declan’s homosexuality had been ill received by them, and that was evident. For a moment, he realized that maybe they’d let him train, in order to get him out of the house and prevent him from, possibly, influencing his homosexuality on his younger brother, Nicolas. He shook the thought, and continued to text Gable back. He and gymnastics were all that made him happy now.


“Do you honestly think that?” Dr. Anderson leaned forward.

“No… Well… Yes and no.” Declan shook his head, “On one hand, I want to believe that my parents just didn’t want to get involved, lest they saw the huge risks I was taking, and the toll it was taking on my body. Conversely…” He let out a sigh… “Nick went through a lot, just because I was his older brother. People didn’t really accept me in Crest. It wasn’t just because I was gay, but because I was obese. It pained people to see me happy, and when I lost weight, all those people tried being my friend, just to gain intel and betray me.”

“Declan, you make it sound like some sort of covert terrorism campaign.” Dr. Anderson shook his head.

“You know what I mean. People who are accustomed to the norm place such a social stigma on those who are different; they hate it. They oppose those who want to and are different.”

“Very well put,” He shook his head, “That concludes today’s session. Don’t forget that group has been moved to seven today, alright? See you then.”

“See ya.” Declan rose and crutched away.

He stopped in a hallway and looked outside. It was a beautiful day. The sun shined with tenacious splendor, a chorus of birds filled the atmosphere, and he could see the light breeze dance through the leaves.

Every day, things got better. He was nowhere as emaciated as he had been, when he had arrived, and months ago that would’ve sent him into fits of purging himself for days on end, but… He didn’t have to worry about that anymore.

His gymnastics career was placed on indefinite hold, and his recovery had become paramount. He had to get better. He couldn’t possibly live with himself for the rest of his life, if he let bulimia consume him again.

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