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3:33 Sports Short #4 // The Lithe Adolescence

by Jennifer Fliss

So far in the 3:33 Sports Shorts blog series we've run pieces on Peyton Manning, running, and the strange zen of late-night call-in sports talk radio. Today we've got a piece on gymnastics. Do you have an idea for a piece? Want to get involved? Consider sending us a few hundred words on the subject of your choice. Another way to support the work we're doing is to become a subscriber. You'll get our Winter Sports issue–– guest-edited by the excellent Natalie Diaz!–– which is the inspiration for this blog series! Anyways, enough commentary. If you have any questions about Prairie Schooner or the 3:33 Sports Shorts blog series, contact Paul at pswebed@unl.edu.


The leotards did not provide much coverage. Star-spangled with red and white stripes, though we were not the USA Olympic team, they rode up our teenage backsides as we balanced and flipped and pirouetted on a resilient floor and a four inch beam.

We were as ragamuffin a team as there could be. Our hair wasn’t pulled into tight buns. There was no glitter. Don’t pick your wedgie, we were admonished, but we did. Fuck! we shouted when we fell off the beam, failed to stick a dismount, the judge’s eyebrows raising only a millimeter but enough for the whole gymnasium to see.

The flesh of our hands hanging in flaps as we pounded chalk into them, crimson blood becoming more delicate, pink. We swore some more, but continued to swing our pendulum adolescence.

Guttural grunts as we stuck back flips, spittle flew from our mouths, a trajectory we couldn’t have predicted. We were not small. We were sometimes graceful, powerful. We were always boisterous. Kicked out of the local diner; we were a gymnastics team, not football players, and still we were forced to drop and give twenty, fifty if we were flippant.

In our red and white and blue we would stride out to the national anthem in height order. Pubescent sweat and chalk in the air. Hot/cold our fingers. Nervous/excited our hearts.

The boys in the doorframe watched our lithe bodies take to the air; dynamic in a way they could never be. We were self-conscious, though when our music began, we donned the correct finger positions and began. We leapt, we spun, we tumbled. We dared not step outside the lines that said stay in here. Except when we got a little too powerful. We danced through 13, 14, 15, 16, 17.

And then we left. And we thought, in our thirties and forties, how powerful our youthful selves were. The control of our bodies, that we lament now, having control over us. We never don a swimsuit. We casually watch our young things swing on the jungle gym, flip off the edge of pools, jump on the bed, and surrender to the way their bodies move through space. And time. And we wonder, was it ever real? Did that really happen?


Jennifer Fliss is a New York-raised, Wisconsin-schooled, Seattle-based writer. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Citron Review, Bird’s Thumb, Brain Child Magazine, *82 Review, District Lit, and elsewhere. Recently, she was a finalist in Glimmer Train’s Very Short Fiction Contest. More can be found on her website, www.jenniferflisscreative.com

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