I did it for love. Not love for pole sport exactly. Love for Salima, my coach. I did this because of her. I did this with her. I did this for her.
The day of the competition I took the hulking freight elevator from the parapole-designated dressing room up to backstage 15 minutes before my turn. I was on the opposite side from the stair access to the stage, where the other competitors waited in the wings, where I could hear the coach of the girls ahead of me yelling out ‘point-your-toes’ and ‘hold it, hold it’ during their routines, which I could not hear from the audience. I was on the same side as the girls cleaning the poles between each routine. They had competed earlier in the kid’s category, their ‘best pole cleaners’ t-shirts pulled over their sparkling costumes, jewels still glittering on their faces.
I had exactly 7 jewels on the neckline of my top. Salima had glued them there while sitting at her desk at Art-move studio executing an entire National Competition interspersed with coaching a team of more than 20 athletes. I let her glue them there because I was resisting jewels on artistic principal and she was making this gracious point:
“It’s probably silly, but how about just a few on the neckline. Just enough to make sure the judges don’t deduct points for looking like you’re wearing training clothes.” I was defensively numb to the ‘points’ argument (expecting embarrassingly few as we were not entirely sure how the judging was going to work in my ‘this has never been judged before’ case) so she tried:
“Will you do it for me? You can take them off after if you want.” That worked.
A couple of the pole cleaning girls were from my Art-move studio team, and those ones pridefully took ownership of my presence on their side of the stage. Salima was on our side as well. She brought me a length of paper towel to dry off any sweat, asked if i needed anything else, gave me space to get in the zone. I was rubbing magnesium under my armpits, holding wads of the paper towel in my palms and rolling my head and tilting my hips out of my chair, practicing the two tweaky bits of my choreography, using the song playing for whatever girl currently on stage to visualize my sequences. The pole cleaners from Art-move would run up to me and lean in and say, ‘You look so beautiful. Your routine is so beautiful,’ They’d repeat themselves in english like it was a scandalous thing to do, like they had just called someone they had a crush on, and then skip back to the group. Dashing back to me moments later to be complimentary scandals again. Shy and bold at the same time. When they were done cleaning the poles for my turn I rolled to their huddle, “gracias chicas.” I said, and went to wait between the curtains - for the judging lull, for the announcer to call my name. They peaked around the curtain from behind me for one last, bilingual round of, “You look beautiful. Good luck.” When there was barely a moment left, Salima’s last words, two fingers stroking down my bicep:
“Just radiate - as you always do.” And I was on. In the glow. And inhabited.
The magic we made at the Pole Challenge in Tarragona on Apr 2nd had everything to do with winning but happened before any points were announced. Just after I performed - out of the spotlight but still onstage - my usually stoic, always beautiful coach caught my eyes and hers were glistening. So I stopped rolling.
“That was…” she tried to say it, but her voice quivered. She had that ‘I know you, and you’re not going to believe me, are you?’ expression on her face. So I reached out to hug her. And she came down to her knees, draping across my lap. My hands in her long, dark hair. Around her shoulders. Her sobs of pride rocking against my wheels and my chest and the whole room stood on it’s feet and in witness and clapped for as long as we sat there together. I couldn’t think of a better way to tell her I believed her and felt it too than to be in no hurry to stop hugging and move off stage. I had done it. The impossible thing I had set out to do and had not been sure I could - set a standard that I didn’t even know how to judge for myself, let alone submit to a literal panel of judges - in a world of “YAY HURRAY YOU DID A THING WHEELCHAIR GIRL!’ - could I make a wheelchair pole routine I was personally and genuinely proud of, could I present it and impress myself? I prepared to be disatisfied as hard as I trained to perform. But, I had done it. And if I wanted it, I could be satisfied with myself. I suspect some of Salima’s tears were relief when it turned out, despite my exhausting overachiever drive, I was gonna let myself have the win.
“You were supposed to tie back your hair, it’s a bit of a deduction to have it down, but in the end I decided it didn’t matter so much, you should wear it the way you want.” Salima said as we headed over to the couch where you get to sit as you wait for the judges to tally your points. I had given her, the judges - the whole experience - exactly enough of myself.
On the couch, sitting under the pile of my teammates who rushed the stage to wait with me, I received all my winning points (37.0 for those who know a damn thing about pole sport scores). And that was amazing, would recommend. So, yeah. I did this for love. Love for Salima, love of winning, love for that feeling of a whole room of people hanging on the same pulse. Love. And since I also love you, here is a tip from this quick-to-diminish-it champion: If you can, and you might need a good coach to help you get there, but - when it’s enough, let it be enough.
Learn how to let yourself have the win.
A SPECIAL THANK YOU:
To my body, which moves in ways I love.
To my choreographer, Monica Cervantes. You gave me new ways to move and love my body. You understood exactly what I wanted to do and translated all that into the perfect gestures.
My Art-move studio team. Despite my terrible spanish and my recurring tendency to be antisocial you guys are the most embracing and fun team/family a #sexicon could ask for. You are all champions of my heart.
To the judges. I felt like I earned those points, not that you were humoring me with them. Thank you for genuinely judging me. I’ll put my hair up next time in honor of you guys.