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Kissing a Stranger in Vegas | Birthday Memories

Lindsey & Ruth in Vegas - 2002

Lindsey & Ruth in Vegas – 2002

Last year for my birthday, I asked my friends to send me stories related to our friendship. I spent my birthday taking a trip down memory lane, reading through all of them. This year, I asked some of my friends if I could share their memories with you.

Today’s memory is from Lindsey Taeko, one of my gymnastics teammates. I’ve known her since she was six and I was ten. She and our teammate Kyle came to stay with me for the weekend during the thirty seconds I lived in Vegas (that was a dumb idea). They were there to watch our other friend, Aaron, compete in a big meet that weekend. On the night Lindsey and Kyle arrived, we headed out to The Strip. As Lindsey remembers it:

We were wandering the Vegas Strip and you decided, “Hmm, I really want to kiss someone.”  So, naturally, you find a cute guy, stop him on the street and ask to kiss him – and he of course agrees.  I was ABSOLUTELY blown away, such confidence, amazing . . . but it gets better! AFTER you kiss the random guy, you start talking to him and he says he’s in town for a gymnastics competition – OMG. Yes, the same gymnastics competition that were are going to watch the next day . . . but it gets better!

Gymnastics Family at Lindsey's Wedding - 2014

Gymnastics Family at Lindsey’s Wedding – 2014

We arrive at the competition the next day and are sitting in the audience. We spot the random guy from last night and he comes over to say hello.  There’s a quick chat, good luck, have fun, yadda, yadda. Conversation is wrapping up and out of the blue you just PLANT one on him!  I just remember witnessing this entire encounter and nothing phased you – cute guy, kiss him; he says he’ll be in the same place as you tomorrow, ok cool, no weird awkwardness of oh my goodness this was just supposed to be a random spontaneous moment; you see him the next day in public and naturally you kiss the guy again. I was so impressed and wished I had the balls and the fearlessness to do what you just did!

While that was a very silly story – it’s also a perfect example of what makes you Ruthie and why so many people love you and look up to you. You’ve always been an incredibly strong and determined woman. You’re driven and don’t hesitate to go after what you want. And most importantly, you don’t care about what people may think – it’s a cliché, but it’s fitting . . . you dance to the beat of your own drum and you were fortunate to understand the value in this long before most of us did. I feel very blessed that after all these years you are still in my life and I’m so proud to call you a friend.

Awh, shucks Lindsey. I’m so glad you’re in my gymnastics family. You were usually one of the quiet ones, but when you spoke, you had a reason and you were often a voice of sweet sanity for me.

Good Night Everybody! | Birthday Memories

REG DoorLast year for my birthday, I asked my friends to send me stories related to our friendship. I spent my birthday taking a trip down memory lane, reading through all of them. This year, I asked some of my friends if I could share their memories with you.

Today’s memory comes from Erika Brown, one of my teammates from Redwood Empire Gymnastics. I trained here for ten years, eight of which I was on the competitive team. When I asked my friends for their memories, a lot of people in my gymnastics family sent me a version of this story, but I think Erika captured it best:

For sure my most vivid memory of you growing up was of you in the gym, walking out the door every night and stopping to yell, “Good night everybody!!!,” and then all of us stopping to respond, “Good night Ruth!!!” It totally brought us together as a gym . . . like it was tradition and for a brief second we all acknowledged the same thing (you!!) as a family! Like when a kid would get a new skill and the whole gym would stop to watch and acknowledge their hard work…it always felt like that! 

Ruth & Erika in Santa Monica - March 2015

Ruth & Erika in Santa Monica – March 2015

I started this nightly tradition when I was fifteen or sixteen, and I don’t remember how or why it started. But it quickly became part of our nightly communal routine – not just for myself, but for the whole gym. It wasn’t a “me” thing but a “we” thing.

Here’s a bonus memory from Erika:

I also remember when I was younger, usually on vault, Rocky would get down on one knee and tell us what we were going to be doing that day and at the end he’d always ask, “Any questions?” and you would always ask, “What’s the meaning of life, Rocky.” And it always just blew my mind!! You’d think I’d have started to expect it, but no . . . every time you asked, inside I was always like “Whoooooaaaa, what IS the meaning of life right now!?!!?!?” (By the way – Rocky’s typical response was to smile, shake his head, and say “Just vault, Ruth.”)

Oh, I love my gymnastics family – so many wonderful memories from that place.

Top 10 Bonus Skills from being a Gymnast

Although I was a gymnast for seventeen years, I haven’t done anything harder than a handstand without the assistance of a trampoline for at least the last five. Nevertheless, there are certain skills you develop as a gymnast that stay with you for life. Here are the top ten:

Beautiful Erika with a Sunset, used with permission

Beautiful Erika with a Sunset, used with permission

Beach Handstand 2008

I Try to do a Handstand every Place I Visit

  1. How to wash your hair with one hand because it hurts like hell to get shampoo in a rip.
  2. How to change leotards in a parking lot without committing indecent exposure because the line for the bathroom at the meet was too long, also how to pee without taking off your leotard.
  3. How to turn your hair into cement with the right combination of hair products where you can take the rubber band out of your hair and still have a ponytail, also how to cut tiny rubber bands out of your hair without cutting your hair along with it.
  4. How to shave your legs, arm pits, and bikini line in thirty seconds in a shower of any size
  5. How to pick up clothing, pencils, etc. with your toes.
  6. How to flush toilets and open doors with your feet – yay for flexibility!
  7. How to do read and write in the car without getting carsick – because the car ride to/from practice was your only time to get homework done.
  8. How to sleep and do homework while in the splits or otherwise bent in half.
  9. How to ride public transportation without having to hold on anything without losing your balance.
  10. How to eat a full meal before working out and not have any issues.

By far, the best skill that comes from being a gymnast is the ability to focus, compartmentalize, and stay determined. I’ve heard from several former gymnasts that being in this sport gave them the ability to work through physical and emotional pain and “go on with the show” when they’d rather curl up and cry. As my coach, Rocky, used to say, “It’s only hard.”

Once a gymnast, always a gymnast. It’s been over a decade since my last competition and I love that some people can tell I was gymnast by the way I walk and carry myself. Gymnastics is more than a sport; it’s a way of life.

In Memoriam: Rocky Kees (1949-2013)

I want my friends in my life. Because someday we’re gonna wake up, and we’re gonna find that someone is missing from this circle. And on that day, we’re gonna mourn. And we shouldn’t have to mourn alone.

-Chief Miles O’Brien from “The Sound of Her Voice,” Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

That day I’ve been dreading has come – Rocky Kees – my gymnastics coach, mentor, and friend of 24 years passed away last week. He was an absolutely incredible person who brought out the best in everyone around him. Rocky made your feel special and respected in every situation (which is an incredible gift when you work with teenage girls). He was the kind of guy you could hang out with for hours and just listen to him tell stories.

Rocky Kees (December 20, 1949 - August 14, 2013)

Rocky Kees
(December 20, 1949 – August 14, 2013)

Rocky scared me when I first met him. He was tall with long thin limbs but his bicep bulged out like a softball when he flexed. He had sunken eyes and thick glasses that made him pretty foreboding to 10 year-old me. And he pushed us to our limits – in a lovingly way. I never trained harder than when I was with Rocky. At first I hated it but I came to love it. He brought out the best in us and there was an incredible sense of security when it came to working with him. If he said you could do something, you knew you could do it. He had a wonderful calming effect on me.

For years, if you were looking for me, the best course of action was to scan the room for him, go over about two feet and look down. That’s where you’d usually find me. At the end of practice every night, Rocky was usually outside chatting with parents with his coffee in his left hand and a cigarette in his right. I liked to pad outside, velcro myself to his left side (so he wouldn’t ash on me), and wrap my arms around his middle. He would look down to make sure it was me but keep talking without breaking his cadence. When there was a natural break in the conversation he’d look down and say something like “How’s it going Baby Duck?”

He called lots of us “Baby Duck” (apparently it’s a movie reference) but it was fitting for me. I followed him around constantly, happy to share his company and glean whatever gems I could from him. Rocky shared so many lessons that applied to life as much as to gymnastics. Here are some of the ones that have been going through my mind for the last few days.

  • Life’s tough. Get a helmet.
  • Dump the cement bag and climb the ladder. (Translation: don’t make things harder than they need to be.)
  • Do what you know how to do.

There are so many Rocky lessons I use in my everyday life. They’ve gotten me through law school, training for half marathons, and challenges in my professional and personal life. In so many ways he’s become the voice in my head, always guiding me in the right direction. Even when he wasn’t physically with me, he was still there.

Since his passing, it’s been wonderful to connect with my gymnastics coaches and teammates to share pictures and memories. The world lost an amazing person and we were the lucky ones who got to know him.

Random Handstand Club

The U.S. Olympic Trials for gymnastics is this weekend! I was a gymnast for 17 years and I love this sport. Unfortunately, elite gymnastics is on TV only 3-5 times a year, so when it’s on, I drop everything and watch it. I’m sure all my ex-gymnast friends will be watching too except for the handful of friends who still live in the Bay Area that get to be there in person. The U.S. has a lot of talent gymnasts on the men’s and women’s side so it will be exciting to see who makes the team.

San Francisco - December 2011 Handstand Ruth Carter

Handstand in San Francisco – December 2011

Gymnastics is a sport that when you stop doing it, you lose your skills pretty fast. At this point, I need a trampoline to do anything except for a few simple skills – like handstands. A lot of current and ex-gymnasts are proud members of the random handstand club.

Ex-gymnasts are pretty easy to spot when we’re traveling. When we take pictures with important monuments or iconic places, we usually take one “normal” picture and one handstand picture. It’s a gymnast thing. I love seeing all of my friends’ handstand pictures from their travels. A few years ago, one of my teammates did a big trip through Europe and made it a point to take a handstand picture in every country.

I’ve been meaning to add a tab to my site for all my handstand photos. The Olympic Trials seemed like as good an excuse as any . . . and I couldn’t think of anything better to write about this week.

If you look through the album, you’ll notice I’m in the same pose in almost every handstand photo. That’s because this is the only position I can hold long enough to get a decent photo. I wish I had better balance so I could do handstands in more daring places, but I’d rather not die because of my random hobby.

I hope to be able to do handstands for a long time and to share my adventures with you. Enjoy!

Get A Helmet

I was a gymnast from age 4 to 23. I was a competitive gymnast for 8 of those years. Gymnastics was more than a sport for me – it was a lifestyle. Not doing it was never an option. When I struggled with injuries, I just had to find a way to work through or around the pain.

Rocky & His Girls, 1993

I had an amazing coach during my competitive career named Rocky Kees. He brought out the best in me and all my teammates. That man was gymnastics magic. I absolutely loved training with him.  It was one of the best times of my life. And Rocky taught me more than gymnastics. He taught me life skills that I carry with me to this day.

One of Rocky’s mantras was, “Get a helmet.” It was his way of saying, “Suck it up” but it had an added element of respect for how hard our work was. He respected that gymnastics was hard or scary, but he wouldn’t tell us to do anything that we couldn’t do. We all heard, “Get a helmet” on a regular basis. To this day, I can post “It’s a Get A Helmet kind of day” on Facebook and I’ll get lots of acknowledgements from my former teammates.

Post-It Above My Desk

“Get a Helmet” has become my mantra for building my law firm. I have it written on a little post-it note above my desk. Every day comes with its own set of challenges, whether it’s managing my calendar, balancing the books, doing client work, writing my book, or marketing the hell out of myself and my firm. There are a lot of things I’d rather not do, but that’s not really an option when you run a one-person shop.  Sometimes I get tired, frustrated, and unmotivated. That’s when I look up at that post-it note, take a deep breath, and soldier on.

Remembering to “Get a Helmet” keeps my eye on the prize. I’m not asking myself to do anything impossible. It’s just hard and scary. I can handle that.