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My eight-year-old tan toes curl around the hot, steel edge of a North Carolina bridge. Below me, a creek swirls and cuts against large boulders that line its wildflower banks. The water shimmers underneath the late afternoon sun as a tiny hummingbird zips across my line of vision. It fearlessly pumps its wings against the thick, humid air, ascends higher, and then – just as quickly as it arrived – disappears. I am young enough to believe I can be just like that ruby-throated wonder, so I take a deep breath, spread my own wings, and then – filled with a mix of fear and joy and excitement – I jump.
Moments later, when I float to the top and emerge into the air of that hot summer day, I can’t help but notice that I feel deliriously, deliciously, wonderfully alive.
* * *
Once upon a time, I was a gymnast. I spent endless hours at the gym practicing and perfecting my routines. My strong little body tumbled across floors, hurtled toward vaults, moved from bar to bar, and dismounted four inch beams. I ran and leapt and swung and flipped and attempted to stick every single one of my landings.
Just like there’s no crying in baseball, there’s no room for fear in gymnastics. You trust that when you come out of that back flip, your feet will land squarely on the floor. You trust that when you propel yourself forward off the springboard, your hands will be positioned correctly on the vault. You trust that when you swing backwards, you will see the bar and catch it at just the right moment.
My physical fearlessness as a gymnast meant that I was pretty fearless when it came to other things, too – things like jumping off bridges and going down zip lines and riding the fastest roller coaster I could find. Since I was shy and had a hard time speaking up, the rush of these other risks felt like a way I could live out loud a little bit more.
* * *
During practice one day, my coach walked up to me as I was getting into position for my floor routine. He reached down and slapped my thigh. “No routine,” he said. “You run instead. You’re getting fat.” At the time, I was 13 years old and 115 pounds of pure muscle. Though I should have known better, the comment changed how I felt about myself: Doubt crept in, and just like that, the physical action of the sport – the one that required the movement of my apparently too heavy body – seemed daunting. So instead of being fearless, I started being fearful. I no longer trusted that my feet would land in the right place, and I stopped all of my leaping and swinging and flipping and turning. I became that girl on the edge of the bridge again, but this time, I was too scared to jump.
Shortly thereafter, I quit.
Looking back, I hate that I quit doing something I loved because of that man’s off-handed comment. But even so, I have to admit that it is a comment that I’ve often thought about over the past few years, years that, for me, have been full of decisions where I could have chosen to let my fear get the better of me, decisions where I could have let that little fear-filled voice inside me say, “Don’t do it. It’s way too scary.”
Because now, as an adult, I can look at my coach’s comment and turn his hurtful words into something 100 percent positive. If I could look that coach in the eye now, I’d speak up and say, “Okay, fine. I won’t follow the routine – I’ll run. But instead of running around in circles like you want me to, I’ll run wildly toward where my heart is pulling me. I’ll run and I’ll leap and I’ll flip and I’ll turn, and I’ll trust that no matter how scary the first steps of that journey might be, I’ll be headed in the right direction.”
* * *
When was the last time you jumped? Were you five, 10, 15, or 25? What would happen if you started jumping again?
Because life’s too short for anything less than a passionate, fulfilling, fearless life. Life’s too short to not run fast and far away from anything that makes you doubt yourself. Life’s too short to regret not spreading your wings every once in a while. Life’s too short not to trust yourself. Life’s too short to let your toes burn on the edge of whatever bridge you’re standing on. Life’s too short not to jump.
So today, be determined to live fearlessly. Take the leap into the unknown, and trust that wherever you land, it will be worth the risk.
This article was originally published on The Nostalgia Diaries.