Back in the homeland of my people—the vast, mystical moors of China—sport just isn’t the same. From what I can gather, the national pursuits there are Tai Chi, badminton and smoking opium. We’re a gentle—not gargantuan—race, so I never exactly excelled at Australian sports. I couldn’t swim or tumble turn. However, I didn’t always come last at swimming carnivals, like you’d expect. No, no. That would be weak. I was disqualified instead.
However, I was flexible. Watching the Seoul 1988 Olympic gymnastics events did strange things to my five-year-old mind. With those Romanians performing impossible things on bars, beams and rings, the sport looked dangerous, but also outrageously faggy. That appealed to me. With all the showmanship, it was an activity I could understand; it was the sporting equivalent of showbiz.
To my delight, I found I could do the splits already. Kids are quite pliable at that age. I’ve heard you can throw them against a wall, take a crowbar to their spines, and they’ll be totally fine or something. Either way, it was clear: I was destined to be a gymnast. Mum took me to the local club, and I signed up. For the next five years, I broke out a sweat and did the training.
From that time, you’ll find photos of me as a kid doing frontal splits, proudly holding my Quiet Achiever-of-the-Year trophy like an idiot. I have medals, plaques and trophies in every colour and material available: wood; plastic; fake wood made out of plastic. There are also newspaper clippings of my triumphs, from when I started winning regional events.
However, men’s gymnastics gets hard. The ropes we had to climb became higher; the pommel horse was introduced to our repertoire. Pommel horse. It’s as scary as it sounds. The bars started to hurt my hands too—which is to say, they actually started to blister and seep blood. For a nine-year-old child, living in a country with robust child-labour laws, this seemed wrong. So I quit.
Nowadays, behold! My posture is hunched. I can barely manage to roll out of bed, let alone somersault off a vault. Touching my toes is difficult. My chiropractor told me this is mainly due to my hamstrings at the back of my legs atrophying, from hours in front of the computer. It’s a sad state of affairs.
Adult gymnastics classes are hard to find in Brisbane, but I eventually found one at a private school gymnasium. Before the adult classes began, you could watch the kids go about their after-class lessons. Watching these children twist and contort mid-air, two words kept repeating in my head: spinal injury; spinal injury. Hadn’t these people heard of public liability insurance?
Our instructor’s name was Will. Despite having a boyish face, and being younger than me, Will was massive. When he raised his hand, or gestured with his arms, his muscles would ripple, like rodents moving under a rug. Judging by his tight shorts, Will also had massive genitals. It was hard not to notice. So this is what happened when you continued pursuing gymnastics into your teen years: you became manly and hot. I regretted not lasting the distance.
By the end of the class, I was flipping off trampolines, climbing up ropes, and generally fearing for my life. “You are going to be paralysed,” I thought, “or die.” However, there was a certain thrill in all of this. One of the final exercises was back-flipping into a pit of cut-up sponges, which acted like safety mats. However, when I landed face-down, I realised they smelled like a thousand amputated, unwashed feet, which had fermented for years. When I opened my mouth to scream, the sponges went in my mouth.
They’ve since cancelled the adult classes. It’s a shame, but in the meantime, I’ve got some hunching to get on with. Swimming laps is my things nowadays. It’s a private pursuit, no one’s watching, and it doesn’t smell like feet. And in my spare time, when no one is looking, I practise tumble turns.