I have broken my left ankle six separate times.
I don’t know if it just never healed properly, or if one break makes it susceptible to another, but it just keeps breaking. The first time I broke it, I was only seven years old practicing gymnastics on the trampoline. I tried to do a back tuck, but landed wrong when I came down. Think of Paige from that one episode of “Dance Moms”; it was the worst.
My problem was that once I fail at something, I then obsessively try to excel at it. I wanted to be able to flip and fly like the other gymnasts. Breaking my ankle didn’t deter me from the sport. Despite the early warning signs that I would get hurt, I kept doing gymnastics for another year and eventually switched to competitive cheerleading.
I have injured myself from every single aspect of cheerleading. No matter how much love and practice I put into it, my body basically refused to stay intact. My bones did not want to tumble or jump or to throw girls into the air. There are definitely bigger problems than cheerleading in my life, but growing up, I placed so much of my free time and enjoyment into it. By the time I was 13, I was too scared to continue.
I developed a massive mental block.
When you love a sport, mental blocks are absolutely devastating. Every time I went to practice, I wanted to vomit. I thought there were only two ways it could go for me; I could either try for a skill and fail embarrassingly, or do the skill and hear the horrific snap of my ankle again. I started giving up on myself. I wouldn’t stretch at home and started to try and avoid tumbling at practice. I thought if I acted like I didn’t want to cheer, no one would realize I didn’t deserve to be there and wasn’t as good as the rest of the team.
By the time I was 15, I had broken my ankle the full six times, and I was done. I gave up on cheer entirely. My parents would ask me why I suddenly didn’t care, but that wasn’t the problem. I lost faith in myself and my skills. When you think you will fail, you will. It is as simple as that. The mindset that I was intrinsically a failure permeated every part of my life. If I couldn’t do things right, I would just give up. If I got scared, I would run. The fear of rejection or embarrassment crushed me. I used to always be a hard worker, but I was so scared I would take one step and break an ankle, or make another mistake I felt I couldn’t live down.
I now know a lot of this fear was adolescent growing pains. You outgrow the things you love when you are little and you fear failure immensely in your teen years.
When I got to college, I decided to try and rekindle the passion and drive cheerleading once gave me. I tried out and made the team, and it felt like apologizing to my younger self. I still have a mental block on tumbling, but I refuse to internalize that fear. I owe it to myself to try at the sport I love, even if I am blindsided with the terror of embarrasment, rejection, or break number seven.
You outgrow things you love, yes, but I now am working on outgrowing my fear instead.