I began taking classes in “acrobatics” along with ballet at Miss Devine’s School of Dance when I was around 7 or 8 years old. I continued with dance lessons at a more serious New Jersey School of Ballet until I was in high school. I missed the acrobatics as I continued ballet classes, and friends who were taking ballet lessons with me learned of a private gymnastics instructor who worked in his garage at his home. Mr. K. was a middle aged, fun guy whom we learned to trust with our lives and limbs as we let him “spot” us during dangerous maneuvers. He needed to have his hands on our young bodies to keep us safe in our sport. We took classes in his garage for a few years. Ballet served me well when I became a member of my high school gymnastics team. Competing in the floor exercise event requires a degree of graceful dance moves to be incorporated into your routine. I was competitive in high school for 2 years until my family moved to a new town where the high school did not have a gymnastics team.
It was when I got my driver’s license that I learned that Mr. K. had moved his operation out of his garage into a much larger industrial space. It was a better set up than his garage as we could fully participate in all four of the traditional women’s events. It was here that we had a full size floor exercise mat and vault set up along with the uneven parallel bars and balance beam. Back in the garage, we were limited to tumbling in a very small space. We worked on the uneven bars, but there was no room for a balance beam or vaulting setup.
Mr. K. was very strong and adept at keeping us in the air, never hitting the floor without a mat or pad underneath us. This required us to trust him a great deal if we were to advance in our sport. I needed to take chances flying through the air with him spotting me. Looking back, I now realize that maybe it was not appropriate for a single, middle aged man to be touching young girls like that, but then I suppose this has been the way the sport has worked for many decades and I don’t know if it would work as well with all female coaches.
In light of many recent accusations in the public arena of men inappropriately touching women or sexually harrassing them, I am reminded of being alone one night in the gym with Mr. K. when I was 17.
He had put a small children’s pool in the gym some weeks ago. He had been talking to us about the importance of keeping our body fat percentage low and our muscle mass proportionately high to make the sport easier for us.
He explained that he had done quite a bit of research on the topic, and had a very scientific way of determining our individual body fat to muscle ratios. He said he had to compare our weight in the pool to our dry weight, and measure the volume of our breasts which are mostly fat to be subtracted in some convoluted formula. I was interested in what he had to say because I did in fact want to become a better gymnast. I also trusted him with my life.
For emphasis, we were alone in the gym. Just me and him. He explained that I would need to take down the top of my leotard so he could take detailed measurements of my breasts. This was during a much more innocent time in our culture when we did not have weekly news of prominent figures abusing women,although I’m sure it was equally prevalent. Later in life, I was told “If it feels weird, it is weird”. Yet, there I was, at the tender age of 17 alone with a man I trusted with my life who was asking me to show him my breasts, and I KNEW it wasn’t right. I simply told him that I wouldn’t do it. He said it was fine because he could take the measurements with my top on, but the results wouldn’t be as accurate. An awkward procedure ensued where he used a measuring tape to take measurements which would purportedly show the volume of fat in my breasts. I don’t remember the outcome of this procedure or what the recommendation was as far as my body fat percentage.
I know it was an awkward ending to my relationship with Mr. K. He was a great gymnastics coach, but it definitely felt “weird”. I didn’t have the sense to know I should have reported him to authorities. I feel bad for the other girls at the gym who may not have KNOWN.