Handsprings eternal

On Monday morning I bustled about my apartment, throwing gym clothes into a bag. “What’s going on?” asked my husband. “I’m going to gymnastics practice at the U of C.” Long pause: “OK…Be careful, Katie. You haven’t done gymnastics since you were 18.” A former gym rat who misses flipping, I had perused the Web site of the Gymnastics Club—an RSO that welcomes students, faculty, and staff—but never worked up the nerve to attend a practice. I decided it was time to take the plunge.

That evening I entered the gymnastics room in Lab’s Kovler Gym. It’s a cozy space packed with 80s-era gymnastics equipment: wooden balance beams, stiff uneven bars, a vaulting horse instead of the modern vaulting table. Settling onto a blue mat, I watched the club president, College third-year Joe Cacioppo, lead 11 male and female members through a warm-up of tuck jumps, stretches, bridges, and splits. Then Cacioppo, a former competitive gymnast and coach, announced the start of tumbling practice. With Bon Jovi blaring in the background, the gymnasts performed handstands, walkovers, and front and back handsprings up and down the yellow tumbling strip.

After tumbling, participants split up to work on different pieces of apparatus. Brian Callender, AB’97, AM’98, MD’04, an assistant professor of medicine who was a gymnast in high school and joined the club last year, breezed through a killer pommel-horse sequence of circles and flares, while Cacioppo whirled around the high bar, bending his knees to avoid the low ceiling. “I did that last year," said Callender, "hit the ceiling and sliced my knee."

The industrious atmosphere inspired me, albeit just a little. As I swung on the bars, the muscles in my stomach ached. Walking across the beam, I completed some of the basic dance moves from my old high-school routine. I decided to call it a day and wondered: how did I ever do this? “You can get it back,” Callender told me. “It just takes time.” Hey, why not? Maybe I’ll pack my gym bag more often.

Katherine E. Muhlenkamp

November 13, 2009