Every year each Big Ten institution awards a male and female student-athlete with a Medal of Honor. First awarded in 1915, the conference's most exclusive award was the first of its kind in intercollegiate athletics to recognize academic and athletic excellence. This week each of Ohio State’s ten Big Ten Medal of Honor finalists will be sharing their experiences as Buckeyes and what led them to become the outstanding student-athletes they are today.
My heart is pounding. It sounds like thumping in my head. No matter how hard I prepare, in the moment I feel the nerves. Talking helps subdue my anxiety. “Okay remember, stay calm” I murmur under my breath. Five minutes turns into an eternity. Trembling and trying to control my breathing, I rub chalk in my hands to ensure they don’t get saturated with my anguish. I stare across the 12 by 12-meter floor to see the judges frantically scribbling down deduction upon deduction, waiting for their signal that it is my turn to be critiqued. “Don’t step out of bounds”. How does this atmosphere appear so innate yet so foreign?
If my career could be summed up in a phrase it would be “perfectly terrible”. I say this because who would have ever though the small town kid that endured sitting out three seasons and what most people saw as a career ending injury for the old dog, would be standing in the corner of the floor at NCAA team finals as a four-time Big Ten Champion, NCAA runner-up and Big Ten Gymnasts of the year.
“And what might seem to be a series of unfortunate events, may in fact be the first steps of a journey”.
In his books Lemony Snicket serves as the ominous narrator of a tale of three orphaned children. And what one may see as a sad anecdote, is really a journey to find the intrinsic values hidden within. Of course Lemony Snicket is just penname. An alternate reality and persona created to showcase his prowess with a pen. And just like in his books, he shows us that in the bleakest of times, a romanticized perception can bring us to our greatest realities. The Baudelaire orphans faced countless adversity but would bounce back to their feet in a phoenix-esque manner.
I’ve always envied the poetic flare of the phoenix. In many ways I see myself as the mythical creature. All of my downfalls have encircled me in the fire I needed to push through no matter how many times my fate seemed to drag its feet with the ashes of my past.
The judge raises his flag to signal to me that he is now ready. I acknowledge his attentiveness by raising my hand. The screen at the end of the floor apparatus shows a green light and a timer counting down. To avoid penalties I must step into bounds and start movement once the timer is finished. I step into the corner, in preparation for my first tumbling pass. I have ten seconds to start my routine. I count down with the timer in an inaudible whisper to regain control over my breathing and re-stabilized my heartbeat. Sometimes in the minutest of moments I learn the most about my life as a gymnast.
“10”. My journey was not self-chosen, but how it end was my decision. It was difficult but it was always rewarding. I never could have done this alone. My teammates were always there. You guys were there for everything. We laughed, we cried. We did it together. I pushed on because of the greater power of our collectiveness.
“9”. The coaches were always on my side. Belief is a hard concept. How do you believe in someone you see fail so many times? I cannot express how grateful I am that you all continued to believe in me; especially when I did not believe in myself.
“8”. Seeing just how far I’ve come since my middle school growth spurt threated the future of my career, Cas, I can’t Believe you called my success from 16 years of age and at a time when I was told to pursue other sports. Under your watchful eye and care I did so much. Así, siempre serás como un padre y nada cambiará eso.
“7”. I realize in these last few seconds that the pressure I once felt has turned into pride. This journey was in my hands but was always more than just me. My mother and father, from the beginning, never cared about the shiny trophies or medals. They just loved to see the child succeed and do what he loved. I hope this performance shows just how much I appreciate everything you both did to make this all possible. I love you.
“6”. I look down at the back of my ankle. My scarred Achilles reminds me of the hard times I had to overcome. Being back on this floor; this moment makes the side-lined months worth the wait. My repaired tendon reminds me of all the hard work. Not just the hard work of getting back into my sport, but all of the other nonvisible and metaphorical scars of my life.
“5”. I struggled my whole collegiate career trying to figure out how I was supposed to eventually let go of something that I felt I never had. In reality I thought searching for tangible gratifications would solve my dilemma but no award can fill a personal void. I realize now that the void could only be filled with the intrinsic values of my venture. I learned how to deal with grief, how to get up after I’ve been knocked down, and how to balance my life. I’m not afraid of what my future holds; not because it will be perfect but rather because I know I can handle it.
“4”. I am an imperfect being; made from the torn pieces of my life that have been reshaped into the Kaleidoscope of color that I call Jake Martín. My gymnastics campaign has taught me that the hard work of my life has molded and prepared me for all my later endeavors, and I’m ready.
“3. 2. 1. Go.”
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