Along my path, I’ve learned some things about myself.

I’ve learned that I have my vain moments… which often consist of me, standing in a mirror, and – with my best Mad Cobra voice – commanding myself to shout out “Gal, fleeeeeeeeeeex!” while showing off the muscle I’ve developed thus far.

US Olympic gymnast Gabrielle “Gabby” Douglass, doing what she does best.

I’ve learned that I’m more inspired by the “hood workouts” than I am annoyed by them, especially as someone who used to lift gallon jugs in my living room, and practiced yoga on my bed because my knees couldn’t take the floor without a mat. (Besides.. I’m not gonna lie. Shirtless dudes doing pull ups on a scaffolding are rarely, if ever, a lose.)

I’ve also learned that… if you do it for long enough, dropping down and getting your eagle on is just as good as any jump squat.

Don’t ask me how I know that. Just know… that I know.

But most recently… with the start of the Olympics this past weekend, I’ve learned that I’ve become all kinds of googley-eyed and star-struck by athletes. I mean, to an obscene amount.

I watched the Olympic opening ceremony with about as much confusion as the rest of my country – to be fair, I did eventually do some digging to see what deeper contexts I was missing, and instantly felt embarrassed by how little I know about the outside world – but that procession of athletes from each country… man. I was excited for them all. I sat in front of my TV, legs folded all criss-cross-apple-sauce-like, giant smile across my face, letting out all kinds of “Awwwww”s and even a few “Oh, that gentleman is rather handsome.”s, in more or less words.

I feel like I’ve been watching the Olympics all my life. I can actively remember laying on my floor, head rested firmly in the palms of my hands, excited as Dominique Dawes, Kerri Strug, Jaycie Phelps and the rest of “The Magnificent 7” blew the world away with their ability. I couldn’t understand it then. It just.. gymnastics didn’t register to me as a kid as something “kids” do, even as I watched amazing “kids” do some pretty epic things on a cushioned floor. I mean, I watched Kerri be carried off the floor after injuring herself, sacrificing herself for her team. As epic as that was… I just didn’t understand it. I couldn’t connect to it.

I was not, by any means, a sporty kid. I didn’t really play a sport. I hadn’t “competed” in anything. It wouldn’t be until my senior year of high school that I’d actually actively compete in anything, and that was show choir. (Yes, it was all “Glee” everything, complete with nude heels, sequins and red lipstick. Don’t hate.) I wasn’t a competitive kid, and I never knew what it meant to work to develop a talent. So often, we’re told that people just “have a gift,” were “given a gift,” or they’re “naturally good at it.” Rarely, do we ever talk about the amount of practice time designated to cultivating that “gift.” We don’t talk about how much “practice time” goes into looking like “a natural” at something.

The same thing happens with being a vocal performer – some people are “born able to sing”, have “great ears,” or are “naturals.” We never think about how those “great ears” are cultivated by a combination of “practice” and lots of listening to great musicians. (You can’t develop an understanding of key and pitch if you’re listening to artists who are always off key and of pitch.) We talk about how “great musicians run in the family,” but never how we’re prepping those kids at a young age because of how much music they listen to… or the number of times we have to shout at them to hush, stop singing while we’re watching our favorite shows.

My point is, while some things might feel easy for us as individuals, our talents don’t exist in a vacuum. Our environments contribute to our abilities to develop a talent, and even contribute to our ability to want to commit to developing a talent.

Undoubtedly, this contributed to my inability to really appreciate the Olympics for what they stand for, and what those athletes sacrifice in order to be among those sent to represent their countries.

…that is, until Saturday.

Man. I watched those Male gymnasts on the pommel horse, and almost instantly my obliques started to hurt. I could barely swing my body around a pole with that kind of control… having horizontal hands while doing it, and having to do it one arm while I balanced and swung my body out of the way… and on rhythm? My triceps instantaneously began to throb. I was impressed, fearful, excited, and in pain. But more excitement than pain… but still, a lot of pain.

Those swimmers… the shots of them diving into the water and bodyrolling to first place (I know it’s not called bodyrolling, but if you saw those shots, you know exactly what I’m talking about!)…instantly, my entire core hurt. Pardon me while I faint.

I even watched the volleyball players – Kerri and Misty – as they lobbed kill shot after kill shot and… it took me back to my days of high school, where I wanted so very badly to play on that volleyball team. I wanted, with every fiber of my being, to be on that squad and have that team and hop three feet into the air and bean somebody upside the head with a volleyball because my aim was so dope. Like… that was me.

And then, I heard that they weren’t the average 10-or-20-somethings that you usually expect at the Olympics. They were in their thirties.

And then, with the story of the 70+ year old competitor – in dressage, no less – and, well, I can’t help but feel inspired. It’s one thing to do all this lifting and all this running, but to commit it to a sport? Playing on a team? Towards a common goal? That works a hell of a lot more than the glutes… though, those are important, too.

And, that’s when the Olympics taught me something else about myself – there was a hyper-competitive side of me that was lying dormant, waiting to be let out and play on the edge of dopeness. There’s a part of me that wants to compete in a way that I can spank some ass on a court, and then shake your hand in the end. There’s a part of me that gets giddy at the thought of working hard and playing to win… and now, it’s time to let it out and, maybe… find a sport to play.

Here’s hoping I don’t break anything important.

Talk to me, y’all – who’s out there getting fit through a sport? Anybody got Olympic dreams for themselves or for their youngins? Let me hear it!