The Olympics have been pretty inspiring, haven’t they? All that jumping, running, swinging and vaulting… especially the vaulting. I’m tellin’ ya; I break into a sweat just thinkin’ about all the training these incredible athletes put into their respective specialties.
However, the gymnastics reminded of a memorable vault I did once.
Well, it’s not quite the same kind of vault you see Olympic gymnasts perform. No, this is where you sorta leap over an obstacle, usually a wall or something, while using one or both arms as a pivot to lever yourself over. It’s an easy way to cross a relatively low barrier without having to clamber over it. One leap and you’re done – easy!
‘Course, it’s usually a good idea to know what’s on the other side of the wall…
“Go Play on the Freeway”
In the city of Houston, Loop 610 is the inner loop around town. It’s been there so long most people don’t think about it, but I remember when it was being built. In fact, when I was a kid, my friends and I used to ride our bikes on it.
(Remember all those jokes about going out and playing on the freeway? Well, we used to do that all the time. At least, until they ruined everything and opened it up to traffic. Ah well.)
Anyway, near my house the construction crews were in the process of building an overpass, and needless to say were huge piles of dirt everywhere. Although they hadn’t gotten around to the actual over-the-road part yet, some of the concrete retaining wall had already been built.
One fine day (this was during the summertime school break, so we had lots of time to explore) my friends and I strolled across the feeder road to see what was new. Like any typical road construction project, there was always plenty of cool stuff three young criminally insane hooligans teenage boys could find to keep themselves entertained.
As we approached the construction site, though, I noticed the new aforementioned retaining wall. From where we stood, we could see there was still some dirt piled up against it. In the meantime, on the other side (where the eventual concrete surface would go) dump trucks had obviously been busy building up the dirt foundation.
Charge of the Light Brigade
Since I was still, you know, young and full of energy back then (ah, sweet bird of youth! *sigh*), I naturally said to myself, “Self, I think I’ll charge up there and vault that wall!” (As you are no doubt aware, one drawback to the ol’ sweet bird of youth is a somewhat distressing inability to, er, “think things through”, if you get my meanin’.)
Anyway, I left my friends in the dust as I charged up to the wall like the Allies storming Normandy Beach. It was a sight to behold, I’ll tell ya! In the annals of history, never was there a more perfectly executed and Olympian-quality vault ever performed. It was a thing of grace and beauty, and a joy to the eye of the beholder.
I’d already determined this was to be the ultimate of all vaults, the one-hander. My eyes had already zeroed in on the proper spot to place my hand. I scanned the ground for proper foot placement, and angled my body such that I could smoothly execute the leap as I arrived at the wall. It was an amazing moment; I could literally hear the crowd roar (score: 9.5, 9.6, 9.8 – and an 8.3 from the East German judge) as my feet left the ground and let the laws of physics and gravity took over.
The Pit of Despair
Unfortunately, I had concentrated so much on the mechanics of the thing, I… well, uh, er… sorta forgot to check out what was on the other side of the wall. As luck would have it, there was nothin’ but a big hole on the other side, about 10 feet deep and maybe 15 feet wide, gaping like a giant yawning Pit of Despair.
I’m sure you’ll have no trouble picturing my face as I went from triumph to panic. Suddenly it was like being in one of those martial arts flicks, where time itself momentarily slowed to a crawl and everything is in slow motion. I quickly searched for options, but unfortunately there was only one thing I could think of: to quickly review my accumulated knowledge of the fine art of levitation.
My hand, initially just resting on the wall, immediately attempted to grip the top in a panic as I instantly brought the other hand around to do the same. Unfortunately, the wall was too wide to grip, so needless to say that didn’t work out too well. I did manage to touch the wall with my other arm on the way over, but the only reward for that effort was a largish scrape.
In the meantime, my attempt at levitation met with pretty much zero success and thus began the long, slow motion plummet to the bottom of the Pit. About the only thing I had time for was a quick scan of the landing zone: mud, a few pieces of discarded wood, and about a foot of water. I utilized the remaining 237 milliseconds or so to position my feet as best I could and -
- sound of splat –
Well, it wasn’t pretty, I’ll tell ya. When it was over, I spent the first few seconds reviewing the State of Affairs.
To my amazement, there was nothing broken, twisted or sprained; I’d landed perfectly upright and on my feet (I “stuck” the landing so beautifully it would have garnered at least a 9.692 score). That was a bit of luck because those few milliseconds of awareness had allowed me to just miss impalement on a rather sharp piece of wood. (Obviously, my team of guardian angels was working overtime that day.)
In the meantime I was standing well over knee-deep in water, my feet buried in the mud at the bottom of the depression. Added to that was the fact that I was almost completely covered in mud from the backsplash (particularly in the, er, nether regions, if you know what I mean).
Naturally, my sympathetic and supportive friends were doubled over on the ground, they were laughing so hard. So, no sympathy there. After a few seconds of supreme effort, I managed to pull my feet out of the mud (insert loud sucking sound here). After a few minutes, I somehow managed to climb out of the Pit, caked with mud and dripping wet.
Looking Before Leaping
Now, before you promptly respond with, “Hey, I would never do something goofy like that!” check out this story I ran across the other day: “… and this is me on Facebook”. Don’t worry; I’ll wait.
It’s amazing how many time folks do things like this without thinking things through, isn’t it? Like the Olympic basketball team that had themselves photographed while pulling their eyes into a slant, or Bill Clinton “not having sex with that woman”, you’d think stuff like this would hardly ever happen.
Alas, the human condition is chock full of evidence the other way, I’m afraid. All I can say is, I hope ya don’t have to experience life’s lessons more than once! It’s OK to make a mistake; hey, we all do it. No, it’s when you have to repeat a lesson that’ll kick ya in the, er, regional areas, if you know what I mean.
OK; rather than bore you with a list of obvious points about the relative, er, pitfalls of leaping before looking, let’s turn this conversation over to you guys.
When was the last time you leaped without looking first? How’d that work out for ya? Are you the type that does it on purpose? Are there positive merits of leaping without looking first? Would you care to share your own experiences here? Or, write a post about your experience and link it back here.
We’d love to hear ‘em! Hey, we’re all friends here…