We all remember at least one episode from our childhood that immediately stands out in
memory, like as if it happened yesterday. I was born in the city of Odessa, a southern region of
the former Soviet Union. Careless and genuinely happy, I was an ordinary bright eyed and pig
tailed five year-old girl in pre- school. The memory is blurry, but I distinctly recall being taken to
a room and being handed a little white envelope to give it to my parents. To everyone’s
surprise it contained an invitation to the first round of selection to join the famed Red Soviet
Army Gymnastics team. Next, I am standing in the large room with a few hundred children,
together with their hopeful and anxious parents.
The enormous size of the gym made a lasting impression on me, as I had never seen
such a room that big. Everything about this room was new to me: uneven bars, several
exercise floors, a few balance beams, trampolines, and various athletic equipment all housed on
the same floor. I look up and see athletes in various stages of training. Girls on trampolines
doing flips, athletes perform on the balance beam, a large group of girls gathered around the
coach listening avidly. I could hear noise everywhere, and feel the air charged with electricity. I
feel both excited and scared at the same time.
Our parents were not allowed inside the gym. As I found out later the coaches wanted
to single out the kids who would start crying. Those who did where immediately rejected. The
others would be fortunate enough to be considered to be selected to this very prestigious Red
Army gymnastics club.
One of the coaches approaches and asks me to climb a long rope. As I had never climbed
before, my hands are burning and I restrain myself from crying. ...