by Paul Wagner
From the book, Jock Jokes and Other Stories by Paul Wagner
I love these guys, thought Wilbur Quigley glancing around the Kennedy High weight training room. There is nothing, his inner voice said, NOTHING greater than being one of the jocks.
But you're NOT one of the jocks, said his other inner voice. You just wannabe. You're Wannabe Wilbur, Wilbur the runt, Wilbur the weenie. “Shut up!” said Wilbur out loud.
“Huh?” said Marcus from the military press machine. “You better be talking to yourself, Weenie. 'Cause if you're telling me to shut up, I'll plant that dumbbell in your-”
“Myself,” blurted Wilbur. “Talking to myself.”
“You don't want to mess with Wilbur, Marcus,” said Brad in a mock-serious tone. “He has a black belt.”
“And a purple belt,” added Chris, “and a brown belt and a green belt and a white belt.”
“Also,” said Leon, “a pair of red suspenders…which he needs to hold his pants up due to the weight of all those belts.”
The boys laughed and Wilbur grinned, relieved. He didn't have any of those belts they were talking about; but they wouldn't shag him out of the weight room as long as they were having a good time making fun of him.
He limped over to the dip bars, positioned his hands, and jumped up. Holding himself steady, he lowered his body between the bars-inhaling as he descended-until his shoulders touched the top of his hands; then, with an exhale, pushed himself back up until he was in the starting position again and his arms were straight. Without pausing, he did 20 repetitions then dropped off the bars, knowing he could easily have done more…like that time he had done 160 when there was no one else in the weight room.
He remembered when he was a little boy and could hardly walk because of his deformed foot, his dad had placed two kitchen chairs slightly apart, back-to-back, and taught him how to dip between them. He was so small his feet didn't even touch the floor when he dipped. They had done it together every evening after that and he had learned his numbers counting dips with his dad. It was the one exercise he could do well; but it wasn't on the workout charts posted here in the weight room, and there were no weights or pulleys involved, so he guessed it didn't count for much compared to what the jocks did.
“Which team you going out for this semester, Wilbur?” asked Chris.
Marcus spoke up. “You've tried them all, haven't you, Weenie?”
That's right, said Wilbur's other inner voice. You've gone out for football every year. Tried out for baseball twice-basketball, swimming, wrestling, track. You've been cut every time. You're not big enough or fast enough or anything enough. “Am, too,” said Wilbur aloud.
“Two what?” asked Marcus. He looked over at Wilbur. “You talking to yourself again?”
Wilbur nodded and hung his head.
“I've got an idea, Wilbur,” Benny said. “You could try out for the gymnastics team this year.”
“They dropped gymnastics,” said Brad, “when the budget got cut.”
“Yeah, but they're starting it up again as a club. They got a new coach-a volunteer."
“I heard about that,” said Chris. “The new coach's little sister is going to school here now, and she's supposed to be some kind of hot gymnast. They're from Europe or someplace.”
“Could be your chance to finally earn a letter, Wilbur,” Benny puffed, stopping between squats to adjust the 180-pound barbell across his shoulders.
“Aw,” Wilbur said, “gymnastics is a girls' sport.”
“Guys do it in the Olympics,” said Chris. “And the flyer in the gym says: Girls AND boys.”
“No boys go for it around here,” Wilbur said.
“So, be the first,” grunted Benny in the midst of a squat.
“Sure,” Leon joined in. “You can break the ground for us.”
“More likely, you'll break an arm,” Marcus said.
“It CAN be dangerous,” allowed Leon. “You probably shouldn't risk it.”
The jocks exchanged smiling glances and Wilber's other voice said: They're setting you up again, Weenie. “So what?” he said aloud, then added quickly, “I mean: so what if it's dangerous? Maybe I'll check it out.”
* * *
To Wilbur's surprise, a dozen other boys showed up for the gymnastics club tryouts, along with thirty or forty girls wearing leotards of assorted colors-pink, blue, yellow. Wilber nervously hitched up his baggy gym shorts and wavered at the outer edge of the group. He almost gasped out loud when a young, blond-haired woman entered the gym and said, “My name is Miss Gauder. Christina is my sister and we are new here from Germany. I will be your coach.”
You'd better bail out right now, said Wilbur's other voice. None of the real teams the jocks are on has a woman coach. Even if you make the team, they'll laugh you out of the weight room for good. “You're right,” mumbled Wilbur.
But he stayed.
The tryouts went on for three hours, and the boys performed last.They started on the tumbling mats, then tried each piece of apparatus. One at a time, Miss Gauder asked them to do simple exercises. Wilbur blew it every time.
When it was his turn on the final apparatus-the parallel bars-he had to stand on his tiptoes to even reach them. But when he finally struggled his shoulders above the bars, he found it was just like the old, familiar dip position. He pressed up easily, then did four or five quick dips without thinking. But when he tried the maneuver Miss Gauder asked him to do, he muffed it and fell off the bars.
Well, said his other voice, that's it. You've washed out again, Weenie. “At least I tried,” he said, then realized he had spoken aloud and gave an embarrassed look at the coach. She stood holding her chin, studying him thoughtfully.
“You know pommel horse?” she said.
Wilbur shook his head. She must be talking about some animal or maybe a town in Germany.
“Come,” she said and led him to the side of the gym where a few mats were draped over something. They pulled the mats off to one side and Miss Gauder tugged a strange looking apparatus away from the wall.
“This,” she said, “is pommel horse.”
Wilber stared at it. Coated with dust and obviously unused for years, it looked like a leather-covered log supported by two heavy metallegs. A pair of curved iron bars stood on top like bucket handles.
“Place hands just so,” said Miss Gauder, grasping the iron bars. “And come to position, so.” She sprang lightly up.
Just like the dip position, thought Wilbur, when he tried it. Then a vague memory surfaced. He had seen some guy spinning around on top of one of these things during the Olympics telecast. He swung one leg around and across to the other side of the apparatus, the way the guy on TV had done it.
“That is good,” said Miss Gauder. “Now try scissors. You swing legs to one side, then one leg over, let go with that hand, swing leg through, catch the bar again, keep swinging, lift the other hand, swing through and catch, then change legs and go back the other way.
It took Wilbur three tries before he could make it.
Miss Gauder asked him to try several other moves. Though each took many tries, he eventually did them all; awkwardly, but without falling.
He wiped his brow with the back of his hand. This was kind of fun; but his wrists sure ached. He looked at his hands and discovered large blisters forming on his palms.
Miss Gauder picked up her clipboard. “Your name is?”
She wrote something on the clipboard, and without looking up said, “We practice every night, Wilbur Quigley-four hours. Learn to point your toes.”
His other voice said, She's got to be kidding! Four hours? Even the football team didn't practice that much. You can't survive it.
“Can, too,” said Wilbur.
“What?” Miss Gauder said.
“Sorry,” said Wilbur. “I was talking to myself.”
“Self-talk is good,” she said, nodding her head; “POSITIVE self-talk.” She put her clipboard under one arm, gripped Wilbur's shoulder and fixed him with her clear blue eyes. “Say: I am Olympics-bound. Say it.”
Wilbur searched for a hidden smile, or a twinkle in her eyes. There was neither. “I am Olympics-bound,” he murmured.
“Tell yourself over and over,” she said. “When you practice, when you walk to class, when you eat, when you brush your teeth, say: 'I am Olympics-bound. I will be pommel horse champion'.”
Wilbur's other voice started to comment, but Miss Gauder continued. “You WILL play in the Olympic Games one day, Wilbur Quigley. You are-how you say?-You are a natural.”
“I am Olympics-bound,” said Wilbur clearly. The other voice was gone.
Weeks went by before Wilbur again visited the weight room. There just hadn't been time. He missed the jocks, the jokes, the smell, the clanking of the equipment. And nothing had changed. The usual guys were there, puffing and joking, as he strolled into the room.
“Well, look what crawled out of the woodwork,” said Leon.
“Hey, Weenie,” Brad said. “We thought you'd been drafted by the pro's.” Everybody chuckled. “Where you been?”
“Gymnastics team,” answered Wilbur, leaning against the dip bars.
“Really?” Marcus said, laughing.
“I'm number one man on the horse, and learning the parallels.”
Marcus's face went blank. “No kidding,” he said. The room was suddenly dead quiet.
Wilbur pushed away from the bars and straightened up. Well, gotta get to practice.” He strode to the door. “I'm Olympics-bound.”
As the door closed behind him, he heard Marcus say, “I'll be dipped.”
Paul publishes a wonderful writing ezine called About Teens. http://www.aboutteens.org. Contact Paul.