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.