I am just another bozo on the bus. But once in my life, for four glorious years, I was a member of the University of Maryland Gymkana Troupe. As I sit here counting on my fingers and toes, and then my wife’s, it has been almost as many pounds ago as years ago. Jimmy Carter was campaigning for president in a new wave of hope after Vietnam and Nixon’s departure.

I didn’t appreciate at the time what a unique opportunity Gymkana was for a guy like me – a commuter student in a sea of faces in a university factory overwhelmed with its commitment to at least offer an education to every graduating Maryland high school senior.

I discovered Gymkana the very first day of college, quite by accident – for those young enough to believe still in coincidence. I followed the sounds of laughter and pounding flesh down a dark hall in Cole Field House, and entered the double wooden doors to a room of magic. 

For me, it was the trampolines. I eventually worked up the courage to take a vault too, and the rest was the best part of college for me. Aaron and Bobby and Seth and Bunny and Rodney and Gina and Nancy and Mary and Hugh and Freddy and Rick and Gary and Frank and … and so many names that are on the tip of my tongue – right there.

I didn’t know what to expect last night, watching America’s Got Talent: YouTube addition. It had to be ladders or vaulting, right? But ladders is sooooo slow until everyone’s up. And vaulting doesn’t get interesting until you start piling bodies on the box, right?

What I saw blew me away. The hand that covered my eyes fell from my face and I watched, rapt. And they were right. It is unbelievable that these kids are not, like, from Cirque de Soleil. The first time I ever stepped on a trampoline, I was 17 years old, a frustrated, nearsighted diver, and it opened up a world to me that proved the difference between college-as-the-place-I-spent-four-years, to a land where I could soar, high above the bus. Just for that brief time.

In my secret heart of hearts, I don’t really believe that everyone gets 15 minutes of fame.  The closest I’ll ever come was probably last night, watching a technicolor version of my fading memories, and swelling with pride. I wondered, giddy, if they were the same ladders we packed into the truck that I occasionally got to drive to local shows. I hope so. I believe they were whittled by George Kramer and Joe Murray out of an old ship’s keel.

If they weren’t, don’t tell me.

 


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    Jack Downs is a mystery writer, teacher, and the author of two novels and several short stories. Jack lives in Carroll County, Maryland with his wife and three children..

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