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Going for gold

American Nastia Liukin won the all-around gymnastics gold medal, last night/morning (depending on your time zone). Watch out, Nastia, I totally could have been a gold medalist too if I’d stuck to my gym classes as a kid! (Never mind that I am 5’9″ and would be a lumbering giant on the mat.)

Where are the handles on this thing?

This thing is narrow

I'm coming over

When I watch sports on TV, I sometimes wonder if I could bike a century in record time or be a world class volleyball player if I’d only had a love for the sport and dedicated myself to it for over a decade. Or are some people’s bodies just naturally designed to be better at certain talents than others? I used to wonder if I could have been a world-class pianist if I hadn’t dropped my piano lessons after three years.

I don’t regret giving up gym classes. Going over the uneven bars was SCARY. And the balance beam is very narrow and was as high off the ground as I was tall. But you know what the strangest thing is about looking at these old photos? They were taken before the current Olympians were even born.

So, in all the years I’ve been living, if someone were to dedicate themselves and work hard enough, they could become an Olympic caliber gymnast. It only takes about15-16 years, and maybe less than that if you believe the rumors that the Chinese gymnasts are underage. When I think about an accomplishment like a gold medal, it’s so lofty that it seems unattainable. But ultimately it is something that can be achieved in a finite amount of time, if you get a little better every day. I suppose it’s not too different from weight-loss in that sense.

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36 Comments

Carol • August 15, 2008 at 8:13 am

The saying that “Youth is wasted on the young” certainly isn’t true for these champions we’re watching, but it was for me. However, since I have decided to not let my age or weight hold me back from doing the things I want to do, everytime I go to the gym or on a bike ride with my family, I feel like a winner too! I am enjoying living vicariously through these athletes, just as I enjoy the encouragement I get from reading and hearing from others who are taking back their health. Makes me feel like a gold medal is hanging around my neck with each of my successes!!!

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K and J's mom • August 15, 2008 at 8:20 am

I think we all have the “if I’d only…” dream. It must just be part of adulthood or something. I often wonder how my life might be different if I had found passion in a sport, or heck, even a talent. Not that I am complaining about my life, it is wonderful and I wouldn’t change it. As I watch my daughter grow, all this comes into focus even more for me. She is sooo much braver and confident in her body’s abilities than I EVER WAS. Ever. And she turned three two weeks ago. Is everyone else as exhausted as we are? I love the Olympics but this staying up until 12:30 every night is slowly killing my brain.

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maggieapril • August 15, 2008 at 8:37 am

Good analogy. All things are within reach if you just keep trying.

The big discussion yesterday at Weight Watchers was Phelps’ diet of 12,000 (yes, thousand) calories a day. He said all he does is swim and eat and sleep.

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MizFit • August 15, 2008 at 8:38 am

HOW SWEET ARE THOSE PICTURES! (and how on earth did you have them? I lose everything these days)

and youve started me thinking.

my Toddler Tornado is late when it comes to many things intellectual (late talker etc) but early w/the physical.

Ive been approached already to start her training for gymnastics (she is less gifted than merely FEARLESS) and I have said a firm no.

I dont want her to be a little girl in a pretty box (wasnt that the title of the book?) or have to starve herself to a small size/weight in order to succeed.

I k n ow theres a chance she’ll resent me later for saying no—-but Im sticking to it.

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Erin • August 15, 2008 at 8:45 am

You ask “Or are some people’s bodies just naturally designed to be better at certain talents than others?”

Last night, they dissected (not literally) Michael Phelps’ body, and said that if someone were to create the perfect male form to excel in swimming, it would be Michael Phelps. He’s 6’4″ but his “wing span” is something crazy like 6’7″. His legs are short, as if he were 6′ tall, and his body is long, as if he were 6’8″. AND he has a size 14 foot, and hands roughly the size of dinner plates.

Add in his aerodymanic ears, the man is a swimming machine.

And I wanted to be a gymnast when I was a kid, but I was the tallest person in my class in Kindergarten, and it just kept continuing from there! :)

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G.G. • August 15, 2008 at 9:35 am

Those pictures are adorable.

I absolutely believe that the way our bodies are shaped influences our athletic abilities, to a large extent. There are still exceptions where hard work can make up for some biological hurdles. And Phelps may have the perfect body for swimming and dominating his sport, but those advantages wouldn’t mean a thing if he didn’t work as hard as he does.

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Sara • August 15, 2008 at 9:37 am

While it’s a sweet platitude, I simply don’t buy into the idea that anyone can be anything they want to be.

We all have limitations that will make some lofty dreams remain forever just that. Perseverance, though admirable and necessary, can only take us so far–there’s got to be raw talent, a natural inclination, that special and rare ‘something’ that when paired with the hard work pushes us over the edge. Salieri knew that–that his considerable talent and manic desire to achieve greatness would never be a match for what came naturally for petulant, irreverent little Mozart–and it drove him crazy. After 12 years of piano lessons, I’ll still never be a concert pianist. It’s just not in me–but I still love to play.

Truthfully, I don’t think weight loss is much different. Statistics tell us that most people just don’t have it in them to be successful at it, long term. I suppose dogged perseverance is a talent in and of itself, and to be able to surrender to a lifetime of it is daunting stuff. I believe that the true heroes of weight loss, the people who take (and keep) the weight off don’t have ANY fewer slips, falls, setbacks, or state fair fried food fiestas than the rest of us…they don’t just quit when it happens. They get up, dust off, learn what they can, and get right back in the game. I want to be one of those people. I hope I’ve got it in me.

http://www.freewebs.com/skinnysara

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Just_kelly • August 15, 2008 at 9:58 am

This is an interesting post because I just had a talk related to this with my dad.

My dad was reminiscing on when I ran my first 5k at 5 years old (I believe I repressed the memory as it sounds like child abuse to me). When I ran it without stopping he thought “I have a long distance runner on my hands”. Well I grew up to shatter that dream of his. In his words, “you grew up, figured out running wasn’t that much fun, and your non-existent athletic ability showed through”. I told him this comment pissed me off as I played softball and basketball year around and worked HARD at them. To me, my identity in High School was “athlete”. He said I was an athlete, just not a born athlete and that I had to work really, really hard to achieve the level of moderate success I did.

This conversation was enlightening for many reasons. First, I felt like my accomplishments meant more because I wasn’t an athlete naturally. Then I felt sad because I realized that, no matter how hard I worked as a child and teenager, I would never be able to touch those born with natural, athletic gifts (whether that be fast-twitch muscles, correct body build, extensive lung capacity, or (like Michael Phelps) flipper like, gigantean feet.

Wow I’m rambling! The moral of the story: I think people need to strive for their individual personal bests and not be sold the pipe dream of being an Olympian or NBA great. I think by setting incremental, individuals goals one is more likely to obtain success than if they say “I will make all-state team in 4 years”. It’s kind of like weight loss: I’ll lose 1.5 to 2 lbs a week is a more satisfying and achievable goal than saying “I’m going to have a body like Nicole Richie!”

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RG • August 15, 2008 at 10:46 am

I think it’s a combination of nature and nurture, but determination is minor. We’re motivated to keep doing things that we’re successful at, unless we’re bored. Good teaching is setting up a series of goals, progressively harder, and providing the tools and motivation to get to the next one.

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nolafwug • August 15, 2008 at 11:17 am

That reminds me of a study they did where kids were either praised for their intelligence or for their effort. Those praised for their effort did better on and had better attitudes towards subsequent tests that were difficult as well as easy.

I think believing that “you either have it or you don’t” with regards to athletic or artistic ability or intelligence or whatever can really hold you back – whether you have it or you don’t. Of course one should be aware that the chances of being the next Einstein or Mozart or Flo Jo are slim. But effort plays a huge part in success. I was always super-smart and never had to try to do well in school. Sadly, I didn’t learn how to accomplish challenging goals until I was much, much older. Heck, I’m still learning.

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Princess Dieter • August 15, 2008 at 11:33 am

I LOOOOOOOOOOOVE those pics. What a cutiepie little girl you wuz!!!! And I totally see your face/expression of TODAY in the little you in the last pic.

Man, you should post more “Jennette Younger” pics. Really cute.

I wanted dance classes so badly as a kid. But, my parents were real poor, and that was just not something I was gonna beg for, knowing that. (Immmigrant kids tend to be aware of the financial struggle in the parental checkbook.)I wonder if that would have staved off obesity. Ah, well

The P

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Curly • August 15, 2008 at 12:23 pm

Your comment about the gymnasts not even being born when your pictures were taken made me laugh. I actually said the same thing last night. Did you see Mary Lou Retton in the stands?? Shawn Johnson, and Nastia Luiken weren’t even born when she won her gold medal! I’m about to turn 33, and watching last night made me feel ancient!

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BMary • August 15, 2008 at 12:37 pm

Did you ever do the penny drop? I took gymnastics at, it looks like, the same age you did (preschool) which was probably about the same year, too. I don’t think I have any pictures, alas. But I remember the penny drop.

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Sunny • August 15, 2008 at 12:54 pm

“it’s so lofty that it seems unattainable. But ultimately it is something that can be achieved in a finite amount of time, if you get a little better every day.”

Had to stop and ponder on this for awhile…

Very insightful…

Thank you!

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Benita • August 15, 2008 at 1:20 pm

Very interesting thought, that. So, going forward, what can we accomplish in the next 15-16 years? It seems like a long time, but from my standpoint looking back, 15-16 years doesn’t seem all that long ago, so the next 15-16 years ought to pass pretty quickly. Let’s see, in 16 years, I’ll be 60 – in today’s world, that’s still in the middle age years (if you ignore what AARP wants you to believe). You’ve given me some interesting food for thought here…

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Jenny • August 15, 2008 at 2:19 pm

I think it is unrealistic to think any of us could be in the olympics, but you can achieve things you didnt think possible. I’m a very unathletic person, but just over 4 years ago I got on my bike and trained and rode 100 miles around lake tahoe. Last year I completed the ‘death ride’ 129 miles and 15500 ft of climbing, so if you put your mind to something and work for it, then you can achieve amazing goals!

I do have my limits, and I’ve decided not to try to get a fast century time as its just too dangerous and I’m scared.

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Quix • August 15, 2008 at 3:29 pm

Yeah, I’ve been having a lot of those what-ifs as well. I was a gymnast as well, got serious a little too late to have been olympic level, but definitely could have swung college. I was one of the heaviest and tallest on my team (at 115ish and 5′ 3″), but I was very determined and solid at the sport when I put my mind to it. I just got tired around age 16 of not having a life and training 7 hours a day so I quit, and then came the next decade of weight gain and sloth – until I was 150 lbs heavier. That’s like – 2 of those little chinese gymnasts!

If you watched the prelims, you saw a 33 year old gymnast for germany vault and kick ass at it. For gymnasts, that’s ancient, and she was keeping up with the 16 year olds. If she can do it, I can find my inner calling again and be competitive at something again too. That doesn’t have to go out the door once you’re an adult! It was a great breakthrough for me.

I like to believe that with enough effort, you can accomplish anything that depends on YOU, not how you relate to someone else. For example, I fully believe that with enough training and dedication, I could run a 4 minute mile (my best last week was 9:28). Whether I will actually put in the effort – yeah probably not, I have a job and a life and a certain amount of hours I can train, but what turns my gears and keeps me going is I believe I *could*. Now, I could meet my goal and run my improbably fast mile and not make the olympics because other people scored less than me.

Heh, I am quite type-y today. ;)

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LM • August 15, 2008 at 4:33 pm

They actually referred to Micheal Phelps as having “superior genetics.” So I guess my inferior genetics are responsible for my lack of Olympic medals?

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Natalie C • August 15, 2008 at 5:53 pm

I’ve been watching the Olympics and being very inspired by what the human body can do. Some of them are freaks of nature, but mostly, even though my body’s not lean and athletic right now, it somehow makes me still appreciate it.

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Brittany • August 15, 2008 at 6:36 pm

I think you should start training right now to be in the 2012 Olympics! Then your blog could be pasta queen’s journey to the olympics.

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Dina • August 15, 2008 at 7:50 pm

Oh my goodness– how cute are those pics?

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Michelle • August 15, 2008 at 10:34 pm

Darnit! Hadn’t watched my Tivo’d finale of the all-arounds yet. Well, it was probably going to happen sooner or later. Cute pictures!

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PastaQueen • August 15, 2008 at 10:46 pm

@Michelle – Oh, crap! I’m sorry. I didn’t even think about spoilers. I hate it when people spoil stuff for me so I truly do apologize.

Jennette

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s • August 15, 2008 at 10:55 pm

the expression on your face in this picture is totally priceless!!

http://pastaqueen.com/halfofme/images/2008-08/gym_02.jpg

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Doc • August 15, 2008 at 11:20 pm

What an awesome and positive message for a Friday! That combined with the pictures almost makes me want to cry. We all have untold possibility in our lives if we can only believe in ourselves.

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sportmom • August 16, 2008 at 12:49 am

You can start her early in gymnastics (as early as 3) as just a way to channel her high energy and then transition into other sports as she’s old enough. I did gym’tics with mine, then ice skating at 4, and then finally at 5 she was old enough for team sports…soccer, swimming and lacrosse soon followed. She turned out not to have the body for gymnastics (not flexible enough – jumping and power isn’t the only thing)but it was great immersion and got her in the sports thing early until she was ready for team sports. Plus in the preschool years, it’s all about fun and games, even in gymnastics.

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sportmom • August 16, 2008 at 12:56 am

PQ – just got caught up on all your posts from the beginning over the last 4 months. Whew! Wanted to tell you to crop that headshot in front of Jamba Juice and paste it EVERYWHERE! By far the best photo of you I’ve seen on here. Hais great, smile is great, angle of your head is great. Hope the resolution is high enough to crop it and blow it up. It’s lovely!!

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Monica • August 16, 2008 at 2:28 am

Dude, you misspelled her last name in two places! It’s not even that long.

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PastaQueen • August 16, 2008 at 7:49 am

@Monica – But at least I was consistent :)

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RG • August 16, 2008 at 8:28 am

Sure, it’s as ridiculous to say that success is all genetic as it is to say that it’s all determination.

I’m reminded of the quote about parents and the nature/nurture debate. “Parents of one child are always environmentalists; parents of two are all geneticists.” Meaning, they know that they treated the two kids largely the same way, but the kids turned out vastly differently. I don’t have kids, but I have nieces/nephews, and I’ve seen it both as a student and as a teacher. Same background, same teacher, same work ethic, but students make wildly different progress.

Maybe the willingness to “try harder” is part of that genetic makeup. What we’re drawn to, what we do naturally, are where our strengths truly lie. A good writer, for example, is someone who thinks about, notices, listens to language in a way that is different from a mediocre writer. That passion is both what makes him good and what makes him choose to become a writer.

This notion of core strengths is backed by copious research by Gallup.

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K • August 16, 2008 at 11:29 am

I have a similar post simmering, but briefly: I had lessons in various sporting activities from an early age, before I had any hang-ups about what I could and couldn’t do, and… rapidly gained the impression that I wasn’t very good. I’m sure I genuinely wasn’t. I’m poorly coordinated and not a fast runner. But it’s surprising how young I had the idea that I was a washout as far as sports were concerned.

It didn’t necessarily make me give up doing the activities – I had dancing lessons from age 4 to 17 – but it did cement a view that I wasn’t naturally athletic and therefore that I looked like an idiot exercising. Which isn’t going to encourage you to exercise, is it?

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Isabelle • August 16, 2008 at 2:49 pm

Goodness, weren’t you cute?

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The Baroness • August 16, 2008 at 5:53 pm

You can do ANYTHING if you really want it and you’re willing to do whatever you have to do to get it. :-)

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Lila • August 18, 2008 at 9:38 pm

so adorable. so, so adorable…

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Cathy • August 18, 2008 at 11:16 pm

The middle picture of you wearing the purple leotard is ridiculously adorable. Too cute!

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milana • August 19, 2008 at 1:38 pm

“But ultimately it is something that can be achieved in a finite amount of time, if you get a little better every day.”

That? That kind of writing right there is why you are truly a successful blog queen and writing. Congrats on it all, and I truly hope you continue to savor all your sucess.

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Comments are now closed on all PastaQueen entries. The blog is an archive only so I don't have to deal with spammers. For fresh discussions please visit my new blog JenFul.

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Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, weight-loss inspiration, chronic headache sufferer, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She does this at JenFul now, but you can still have fun perusing her past here.

Disclaimer: I am not responsible for keyboards ruined by coffee spit-takes or forehead wrinkles caused by deep thought.

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