Haley Graham was at the top of the world. She was fifteen and on the U.S. team for the World Championships. Things couldn't be more perfect. She was the best gymnast in the country. She loved what she was doing, what she was able to do.
And yet Haley noticed plenty of imperfections in this seemingly perfect world of her. She noticed the way some of her teammates cringed at the very sight of a burger, the way they munched on carrot sticks when they hadn't really ate in days. On one such occasion, Trisha Skilken actually passed out after a meet. She claimed it was dehydration and that she was fine, but Haley knew the truth. Trisha drank more water than a fish. It was crazy what some of these girls would do for their sport. Luckily, Haley was naturally thin and still able to enjoy food she loved, but she knew other girls weren't as lucky. Some went the Trisha route, and others headed for the toilet. Either way, you had to fit into your leotard.
Another thing Haley notices is the judging. It didn't seem to matter how creative or innovative the routine was, how complex the trick. You had to play their rules, their way. A girl with a cookie cutter routine could score better than someone who had actually came up with something new. The judges liked things they already knew how to judge. Unfortunately for them, that wasn't Haley's talent. She was soon known as the "wild child of gymnastics" for her complete refusal to comply with these rules.
Despite these flaws, Haley loved her sport. She loved the freeness of it all, the spinning on bars, the flips and twists on beam, the tricks she could pull on floor. It made her feel exhilarated, the way people got before jumping out of airplanes. And though she may disapprove of the gymnastics world itself, she always loved gymnastics.
Of course, Haley's whole world came crashing down at Worlds. She had been getting a drink of water before her floor routine. Haley wasn't nervous at all. She knew she'd win. She owned floor. She had seen her mother and her coach, Chris DeFrank, talking. Coming closer, she listened to the conversation.
"Alice, we can't tell Haley about us until after floor," her coach argued. "She needs to focus."
Haley felt like she was going to throw up. Her mom and her coach? She went back and sat down, her world shattered. When her name was called, Haley knew what she had to do. Instead of walking towards the mat, she walked in the other direction, towards the door. For a moment, she glanced to see her mom and coach's reaction. They looked shocked, devastated even. Good, she thought. Now you know how I feel.
What happened afterwards was a whirlwind to Haley. She had given up the sport she loved, the life she was living. Haley Graham was no longer a world class gymnast. She was just an angry teenager, angry at the world. Her parents split up, and she couldn't even stand to look at her mom anymore. Every time she saw her mom, she replayed that day at Worlds in her head. Sure, Haley wasn't that close to her dad either, but at least they were on the same side.
Haley tried to live her life free of gymnastics. She met Frank and Poot and soon became a part of their group. Haley had never really had friends. Elite gymnasts could never be friends. Everyone was looking out for themselves. With Frank and Poot, Haley started to find other things she liked doing. Doing crazy tricks on bike gave her a similar exhilaration to what she had felt doing gymnastics. It wasn't the same, but it was close enough. Something about being in trouble or running from the cops gave her a rush. She felt free.
But Haley hadn't forgotten gymnastics, not even close. She still missed the sport, missed the feeling of flying in the air, of defying gravity, but she didn't miss the world. Haley remembered the things she had brushed aside about her world. Sometimes she wondered about her ex-teammates. Did they still munch on carrot sticks? Had Trisha fainted again?
Haley would've continued her life as it was if she hadn't been busted. Frankily, juvie did sound better than VGA. Juvie sounded better than going to a place where everyone would hate her on sight, better than going back to a world that she hated. Haley had heard of VGA and Burt Vickerman. He'd had a couple of successful gymnasts before he started producing more injuries than champions. Haley wanted to keep her neck in place, thank you very much.
Burt Vickerman was just as she expected: a controlling has been out for the money. She listened as he sold tickets to the Olympics one by one. Honestly, how stupid were these people? Luckily the only gymnast that knew her at VGA was Joanne Charis. Joanne and Haley had trained together at DeFrank's. There was nothing really special about Joanne as a gymnast. She followed the same cookie cutter routines everyone else did, and yet she thought she owned the world. The two newbie gymnasts interested Haley a bit: Mina Hoyt and Wei Wei Yong. They had something, a spark that could prove to be something. The gymnastic world would probably chew them up and spit them back out. Something that interested her even more was that the two girls were close friends. Haley had never seen two gymnasts who were good friends.
It was comforting to see that at least someone else had the same view of the gymnastic world she did. It wasn't fair that a girl could pull a Double Arabian and get points off for something like pointed toes. It wasn't fair that judges looked for perfection in a sport with no instant replay. It wasn't fair that the code of point made innovation bad and conventionality good. Haley rolled her eyes when Burt started talking about how she was one of the best talents the sport had ever seen. She recited the 'Get-it-together' speech she had heard numerous times to him. The two made a silent agreement: coexist until Haley could escape.
Getting back into shape was a bitch. Haley had forgotten that part of her sport. But, as she always did, she pushed herself. Burt kept telling her to control her tricks, but Haley didn't know how. She was full speed ahead, always had been. Her going to Burt was a big deal, or at least to. She wasn't one to admit needing anything. She knew Burt got the message. She would give him a little control as long as he didn't abuse it.
Seeing Frank and Pout in her world was kind of scary. They were part of a different life. Still, she was glad to have them at the invitational. Haley was thrown for a shock when that girl dumped a soda all over her. That was for Worlds. Seriously? She then remembered something else she'd forgotten about the gymnastics world. It was wasn't very forgiving.
It seemed the world was out to get her that day. Not only did Mina and Wei Wei hate her for some unknown reason, but her mom had to show up. Not only that, but she also had the nerve to suggest Haley go back to training with DeFrank. When Haley pointed out that she couldn't train for someone who didn't respect her, her mom revealed that Burt only took her because her father was paying five times what everyone else was.
So, when she messed up during her beam routine, Haley did what she did best: walking out. Burt came after her and started shouting all this crap about how she couldn't make this another Worlds. She wanted to punch him. What the fuck did he know about Worlds? What did anyone else know about Worlds? Then he started saying the same crap her mom said about her training with DeFrank, and Haley lost it. She revealed her secret and watched as Burt reacted. She brushed off his apologies. Haley was sick of adults lying to her.
Of course, this also meant she was thrown for a loop when the judge wrote her that letter. Someone, someone who shouldn't even like her, had pointed out that she deserved a clean slate. No one had ever offered that to her, and it meant a lot to Haley that Burt thought she deserved that. What really helped her decide what she wanted was the fact the damages were paid off.
This time, Haley trained for herself. She trained because she loved her sport and wanted to kick ass for her coach and time. Nationals were nerve racking to be sure. It had been a while since she'd entered that gym. Seeing Trisha didn't help. Apparently, the blonde still hadn't forgiven her for Worlds. The judges seemed to be constantly comparing the two, and Haley could see why. She and Trisha were opposites. Trisha was consistent but traditional, and Haley was unpredictable and innovative. It was the classic old versus new battle of gymnastics.
Haley hadn't meant to start a trend by scratching her vault. She just knew that Mina had deserved a higher score. She nearly died of shock when Joanne started to strut down to the vault. More gymnasts followed. The general consensus they all came to was this: if they picked the winner, the judging would be fair. Of course, the judges and coaches tried to fight this, but it was beyond them. The gymnasts united were stronger. Though the plan hit a snag at the beam, Haley still thought Wei Wei's routine kicked ass. She had never seen anything like that on beam before. She hoped someone got a picture of the judges' faces.
When Haley stepped up on the mat for her floor routine, she felt nervous but exhilarated. After a quick pep talk from Burt, she was ready to go. Haley did what she did pass, throwing her tricks as hard as she could and just loving what she was doing. Some would later call it the comeback moment of her career, but for Haley, it was just freedom. She hadn't even cared about the score she was given, but apparently, Trisha did. Her ex-teammate got up to the mat, but instead of starting her routine, she pulled out her bra straps and scratched.
So yes, gymnastics had its flaws, and Haley couldn't ignore them. But, as she came to realize after Nationals, maybe she didn't need to. Maybe she could fix them, or maybe she could just accept the fact that while gymnastics had flaws, it also had its assets to. And Haley Graham wouldn't have gymnastics any other way.