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Some people cringe at the word. Some have no interest. Others love it. Whatever the factors are, I'm certain of one thing: I love competition.
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Rhythmic gymnastics equipment, blue ball and purple ribbon.
Rhythmic gymnastics equipment, blue ball and purple ribbon.

Some people cringe at the word. Some have no interest. Others love it.

Perhaps people view it differently because of the activities they do or the influence from those around them. Perhaps it's such a convoluted idea that it is impossible to pinpoint a single cause. Whatever the factors are, I'm certain of one thing: I love competition.

I admit that as a child, this was definitely not true. The fear from just hearing the word "competition" was a challenge to overcome. Now, however, I have become accustomed to the nervous fluttering in my stomach, the adrenaline that rushes through my veins, the energetic environment of the gym. Now, competition has become an irreplaceable part of my character.

So when February came diving to a close, both excitement and anxiousness seized me. The first week of March was not just another week -- it was the week I began my competitive season. Usually I would have gone to other competitions prior to March, but my hip injury put me out of training until January. This year, with two months of training, I started out the season at MA State.

Saturday, March 2nd. Hoop and ball today, clubs and ribbon tomorrow. Both days, I'm at the end of the rotation, so I have to conserve my energy. After warming up, stretching, and doing some elements, I take my hoop and begin practicing. The competition seems to drag on -- I run through my routine multiple times, and still I don't hear my name announced to go. Then it comes suddenly: "On deck, Amanda." Yes! Wait, no... should I be happy or nervous?

With these conflicted thoughts I walk past the divider and advance toward the carpet, shrugging off any reservations. The nostalgic sight of the judges' panel and decorated entrance way greets me. As I watch, the music ends and the girl before me leaves the floor. Soon I'll be the one on the carpet. The audience's clapping slowly dies out, and silence descends in the gym. Hoop in hand, I look for the raised flower -- the signal from the judges that I should enter the floor. A long minute ticks by, and then I see it. It's time. The announcer picks up the microphone and says, "On the floor, Amanda."

Hoop may not be my best apparatus, but it's certainly the routine that I am most confident about. My music starts, and I do my first mastery, rolling the hoop across my arm and catching it after an illusion. Yes -- nailed it. But I have to move on. Next: rhythmic steps.

Concentrate on your hoop, I tell myself. I execute my handling carefully to avoid an unnecessary mistake. Good, now a roll... my mind focuses on each skill as the routine progresses, following the familiar rhythm I set during practice. Everything is going well, and before I know it I'm at my last toss. My arm lifts and I see the hoop flying up to the right spot, just where I need it. It's impossibly perfect. I can catch it, I think triumphantly as I watch it descend. I just need to catch it. I do my fish-flop, the hoop is at my feet, I'm about to smile victoriously and -- too late!? But I could have sworn I had it!... My hoop sails out of the carpet, and I'm stuck helplessly in my ending pose as my music mercilessly ends.

No, no, no...

Disappointment and anger flare through me. I muster a smile, pick myself off the ground, salute, and walk off the carpet. I retrieve my hoop from the corner and my smile drops from my lips. I bite my lip in an attempt to hold back my frustration. I had seen my hoop -- it was right there! The toss was perfect! -- and I'd caught it countless times before at training. Yet I had still dropped it.

My first routine at my first competition, and already I'm regretting the past. But would I rather be sitting in the audience instead of competing? I ask myself. Slowly, as my anger dissipates, I remember how much I missed competing. I remember how much I wanted to get back on the carpet, how much I wanted to hold my apparatus and do my routines. Before long a feeling of exhilaration fills me -- this is where I want to be. And one mistake can't -- won't -- change that.

I sigh as I change leotards and pick up my ball.

It's good to be back.

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