Taste of Sweetness: Vaulting Again

Yesterday I vaulted for the first time in five years, and not to get all mushy on you or anything (just kidding I’m definitely going to get a bit mushy), but I’m pretty sure something that had been lying dormant inside of me came alive again. It felt incredible. 

Important side note: I’m most definitely not making a comeback for WEG 2018 or any other future competition involving full body spandex.

In all seriousness, I only spent a few seconds on an unfamiliar horse’s back, but in those moments, I somehow became more whole. I mounted at the canter and swung up to my knees with the same ease I did years ago. Moving to the rhythm of this horse’s easy canter, it felt as though my past and my present merged.

Moving to the rhythm of this horse’s easy canter, it felt as though my past and my present merged.

It’s been easy to attribute my vaulting career to a former life. Megan Benjamin was a vaulter, someone who spent all her time training, who only traveled for vaulting, who ate the same foods on repeat like a wackjob. She spent her summers in Europe so she could train and compete. She made important life choices based on how they would affect her vaulting career. She was a World Champion, a multiple-time world medalist, a horse lover to her core, and her closest friends were all vaulters.

Then there’s Megan Guimarin. She’s a mom, deeply focused on the well-being and happiness of her daughter. She is a wife who puts her family first. She is an entrepreneur. She is somehow really good at yoga (apparently she did handstands on horses or something?) and thoroughly enjoys rock climbing. Vaulting only comes up occasionally at dinner parties. Her husband–not a vaulter or anything remotely close– is a self-admitted “proud parent” who loves to tell people that she was a world champion in equestrian vaulting back in 2006. He’ll even show you the video. She usually blushes, dismisses the accomplishment by saying something like, “well, now you know a world champion in a sport you’ve never heard of,” and with a new memorable anecdote, the conversation continues as it did before. She rarely thinks of vaulting except when it pops into dreams, which are usually nightmares involving a forgotten uniform or an untrained routine.

These two people– Megan Benjamin and Megan Guimarin– are distinct to me.

These two people– Megan Benjamin and Megan Guimarin– are distinct to me. When I was pregnant with Ali, I chose to distance myself from vaulting because I had grown tired of the sport’s slow growth, of its serial disorganization and dysfunction. I had spent years trying to change it through sheer force of will, focusing my efforts on legitimizing vaulting through Equestrian Vaulting magazine, marketing efforts with the American Vaulting Association (despite paltry budget), and– in my days as a competitor– through international success. I knew it would take time, decades even, and I had been committed to the long game, but with a baby on the way I realized I had other priorities. It suddenly felt herculean to try to legitimize the sport with the small posse of likeminded visionaries who had both the capacity and capability to help.

And so I gave it all up. I passed off editorial duties for Equestrian Vaulting magazine. I didn’t run for reelection for my American Vaulting Association and United States Equestrian Federation board and committee seats, which I had held for almost a decade. I left all traces of vaulting at my parents’ house. I said goodbye to vaulting without pomp or ceremony or any official farewell. I simply moved on.

And I was totally good with it all. I didn’t miss the sport all that much. I didn’t miss the horses. I definitely didn’t miss the sisyphean horse-related chores or the stench of horse manure. I did and do miss some of the people though, the community. But I made time for those who mattered most to me, and so I continued to be good with my choice.

This past weekend, high on harmony with a horse I’d never met before, I realized just how much I had missed vaulting. Not the politics or the commitment or the non-stop training or the other bullshit, but the art, the sport itself. Sitting there, relishing the feeling of a strong canter underneath me, I realized: I don’t need to subvert the old to embrace the new. Vaulting is and can be part of my evolving identity, who I am, who I want and choose to be.

Vaulting is and can be part of my evolving identity, who I am, who I want and choose to be.

It is likely that the sweetness was in the taste– perhaps in the same way a bite of something wonderful will make your stomach dance, but a whole meal of it will undoubtedly make you sick. In no way did my experience make me eager to re-enter the world of vaulting politics and betterment, nor did it make me eager to eat, sleep, and breathe vaulting like I used to. I don’t want to compete again. I don’t want to be involved in the day-to-day.

But I do want to continue to vault every now and then or at least regularly play and experience the aspects of vaulting that make me feel centered and whole– vaulting itself, but also dancing, flipping, riding. These are things that I once loved, and still love.

And I’m grateful to have been reminded of this.

 

 

 

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8 comments

Michael July 11, 2017 at 4:16 am

I love you Megan for everything you are

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Heather Latimer July 11, 2017 at 4:57 am

As a vaulter myself, i read your beautfiully written article. And frankly it scared me. To be the person you once were and think that myself in possibly ten years could be you. Dropping it all and moving on. How did you deal with that. I see myself forever continuing on. And frankly having to bare the thought of quitting competing scares me. How did you see that through and decide now was the time. I see many other woman who are pregnant now and plan to mke it to WEG 2018. How they will do it i dont know. But how did you do it? I have to be sensable and talk myself through the future saying okay, one day i willnot/ cannot compete. And to think of well so far my 12 years in the sport to vanish from my day, vanish from my schedule how did you fill your time? Did you ever realize all you put in and think why did i lose something i worked so hard on? Thank you for making this article. I would love to speak with you further. As i remembering watching your routines and dreaming of one day acheiving something like you did. To myself you are the shawn jonhson of our sport. And i thank you for being such an inspiring role model to me and giving me something to dream about.

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manythingsmegan July 11, 2017 at 5:25 pm

Heather- If it helps, deciding to step away from vaulting was an evolving process. I “retired” and “came back” to the sport on three separate occasions, and it was only after winning a medal as a pas de deux with Blake Dahlgren in 2012 that I felt truly at peace with formally retiring from active competition. (It took four more years after that before I stepped down from my active political and organizational duties as well.) For me, it had less to do with what I was giving up (vaulting), and more to do with what I was gaining (family, a career, passions outside of vaulting). It’s hard to give something up without replacing it with something you are equally or possibly even more passionate about. Deciding to stop doing something arbitrarily because “I should” or “I’m supposed to” or “because others think I should” never works for me. I have to feel in my soul that it’s the right move. And this was.

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Adrienne Stang July 11, 2017 at 7:01 am

Nicely written as always Megan, but when you walk away from contributing and choose not to face the day to day trials and tribulations of a sport that brought you so much, you deny that same opportunity to some future champion. As the saying goes, it takes a village to keep vaulting alive in the US and many of us stuck in there through all its problems and frustrations so that you and others could experience the thrill of a lifetime, being a World Champion. For me, that meant 44 years of volunteering in many varied roles, sometimes giving as much as 40 hours a week. I could have taken an elitist attitude after my daughter was out of the sport and said I can’t cope with these problems anymore, but I didn’t. I knew I alone couldn’t change the organization and attitudes present but I saw places where I could contribute and so I did. If those who benefitted from my actions and the work of many others and who now have the necessary knowledge to help vaulting won’t pick up the torch, so to speak, then there will be no sport left for those to come and that will be tragic.

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manythingsmegan July 11, 2017 at 5:21 pm

Thanks for your comment, Adrienne. Life tends to unfold as seasons. Seasons of giving, seasons of taking. Seasons of focusing inward, on self and family, seasons of focusing outward. Right now I am focused on my family, and it is very important to me to spend my efforts there. I feel I have given back to the sport as much as I possibly could before family became my primary focus, but for now, I need to focus elsewhere. I am sure I will be giving back to the sport in other ways in the future though, and I’m happy to support it in the limited capacity I can until then. It never has to be all or nothing.

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Robin Akins July 11, 2017 at 7:15 pm

The days of vaulting are some of the best memories of my life. I would love to jump back on a horses back, wishing I still had the ease to fly high above and land with ease like I did back in the day… I too miss those days. I miss the people, Miss people that I did admire and look up to like the great judge, Adrienne Stang! Being part of a team, that had a bit of success, then was broken by it, but the parents of some who wanted to control and destroy what was fun for us… is hard to go back to… I understand the need to have some distance… If I had kids, it might be different, and I would want them to share the experiences I had, enjoy the time with the horses, learn teamwork, responsibilities, chores, etc… it all resonated and has stayed with me through the years.. I miss the sport, and wish it would grow, every time I see a video or a clip I see how far it has come, I am in awe. I hope you find a way back Megan, it is a unique and exciting experience that you can impart to your children, and future generations of vaulters to come. Robin Filbert – CVV 1982 – 1989

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Audrey July 11, 2017 at 10:02 pm

Your words sound so right to me. I was also a vaulter for 14 years and had a few successes in France and in Europe. Vaulting was all my life and I had to stop for my studies. I also was fed up of the training, the problems etc so it did not bother me too much to stop back then. Now I have more time but I moved in Montreal, where there is no vaulting (for what I know at least).
When I come back in my hometown I sure go vaulting, just to have the feeling pf the horse. I understand what you’re describing, the two different people at different time of your life, but the sports being a part of you.I did not have your successes but I had the same passion. Now I know I am not the only one 🙂

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Stephen July 12, 2017 at 6:09 am

<3

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