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From One Language to Another  -- creative nonfiction by Taya Kim

Lan•guage (lan’gwij) n. 

1. A form of communication conveyed by speech, writing, and gesture. 

Language was just this: another word out of the 171,476 in the dictionary. 


As a child, I was very shy. In preschool, I refused to play with the other kids in the sandbox. In kindergarten, I refused to be in the class photo. Throughout elementary school, I refused to raise my hand. My introversion sent me scurrying behind my dad’s back. Noticing this, my parents searched for extracurriculars that might bring me out of my shell. One summer afternoon, they sent me with Grandma to check out a rhythmic gymnastics facility. I climbed out of the car seat, my eyes instantly alighting on the imprinted sign on the building: Gold Star Gymnastics.


“What are we doing here?” I asked her.

Grandma smiled, kind lines appearing at the corners of her eyes, and guided me toward the entrance. The enchanting beats of “When You Wish Upon a Star” by Pinocchio warmed my heart when I opened the door. I took a few cautious steps, my mouth forming a big O. 

A girl wearing a bright red leotard twirled her ribbon on the carpet, creating seamless zig-zags during a one-handed cartwheel. Another gymnast tossed her hoop into the air and effortlessly caught it between her legs. 

Surreal. 

Grandma’s voice snapped me out of my awe. 

“Let’s go, right over there.” She pointed to a fuzzy blue carpet, where a group of girls my age lined up in front of a coach. Anxiety coursed through me, yet something propelled my body forward.

A coach greeted me with a smile. “Hey, there! What’s your name?” 

“Taya…”

“Alright, Taya, we’re warming up!” 

Arching into the O of a backbend and extending into a T-balance, I felt at home as the letters fit into shapes and easily rolled off my body. The class was over in an instant.

“Taya is very talented, very flexible,” the red-headed coach told Grandma afterward. “She should be on the team.”

“Oh, that’s up to her parents,” she chuckled. 

She was talking about Dad: the first thing that flew out of his mouth when we came home was  “Kucha deneg” — “Lots of money” in Russian. “The training, the coaches’ fees, the leotards!” he shouted. 

“You should have seen the look on her face!” Grandma cried out. “She needs to find her voice!”

Dad harrumphed. 



 

February 4th, 2016: the day of my first rhythmic gymnastics meet.

“It’s time to go!” To this day, Mom makes a point of being on time.

When we got to the arena, she ushered me to the bathroom to do my makeup. A gymnast stood in front of a sink, washing away her smeared mascara. Sensing our presence, she looked up, embarrassed.

“Sorry… eh… do you need the mirror…” 

Seven-year-old me wondered why she was crying. Mom glossed my lips, worry creasing her eyebrows. The girl ran out of the bathroom without a word.

“Don’t worry about it.” Mom kissed me on the cheek. I smiled back before joining my teammates.



 

“THE LEVEL 4 ROTATION WILL NOW BEGIN!” 

 “PLEASE WELCOME TAYA!”

The booming speaker sent a shock wave through my body. I took a deep breath, and despite not feeling ready, my feet made their relevé walk onto the carpet. With hands on hips and crisscrossed feet, I flashed a shaky smile at the judges. The music began.

Because my floor routine didn’t require an apparatus, such as a ball or ribbon, a part of me desperately clung to the music for the entire ninety seconds. Walking off the carpet, my coach looked at me with silent concern, but it was when I did my rope routine that she spoke.

“Tayachka, my dear, you have to stop playing safe!”

I struck the starting pose for my final routine, the ball trembling in my hands. With a flick of my wrist, the apparatus flew and disappeared under the glare of the fluorescent lights. The crowd held its breath—silent—as my heartbeat thundered in my ears. I squeezed my eyes shut, focusing on the melody to ground myself. And. . . as the final beat of the music sounded, my ball landed between my knees, like a period capping off a sentence. 

  I did it.



 

“IN FIFTH PLACE, WE HAVE TAYA!” 

My teammates cheered for me as I stepped forward to receive my trophy. I grinned at my family, who were taking pictures of me as if I were a celebrity. “We’re all so proud of you!” They gushed as I walked over with my arms full of awards. 

Looking up from my colorful ribbons and fifth-place trophy, I made eye contact with Dad and gave him a smirk. Despite his scowling when I went to practice and his “kucha deneg” muttering, I showed him what I could do. 



 

From that moment on, I chased the exhilaration of performing under those blinding lights. One practice a week turned into two and then three. The simple ball toss transformed into a challenging no-vision catch. Instead of shrugging off my coaches’ critiques, I paid closer attention, devouring every word and being hungry for more. My parents told me to take it easy, but why take it easy? I wanted more than that fifth-place trophy. I wanted to win. 



 

“THE LEVEL 5 GLOBAL RHYTHMIC INVITATIONAL WILL NOW BEGIN!”

I chewed my nails as I watched my strongest competitors perform flawlessly. When it was my turn, my first three routines went by without a hitch, but a fumbled trick in my clubs performance bumped my placement from first to third. 

“Never relax until the end,” my coach told me as I emerged, crestfallen, from the competition carpet. 

I held back tears and managed to plaster a grin on my face throughout the awards ceremony. Once outside, I sobbed into Mom's chest, who ruffled my hair and sighed. The tears tasted of salty disappointment and wounded pride.



 

They call it the “star disease” — the mindset of a perfectionist. I became so attached to the idea of winning, that I forgot to enjoy the sport itself. My confidence shattered more with each loss, but I only dreamt bigger. On New Year’s Eve, I wished to make the top twelve of the National Team. 



 

I made my way toward the carpet during a training session, reenergized by the string of successful routines I had pulled off in the past month. 

My coach smiled down at me. “You’ve really lit up the stage, Taya. Stay focused.”

I nodded. Sliding into a middle split, I heard a sudden “pop.” 

I ignored the pain for the rest of the training. 

I woke up the next day. The burning was still there. 

A few days went by.

It spread to my groin.

A few weeks went by.

It burned.

Bad.

That was when I told Mom. She took me to multiple hip specialists, but after being poked and prodded by doctor after doctor, I sat helplessly as the results remained inconclusive.

Frustrated, we searched for alternative treatments. Acupuncturists stuck their cold needles into my hip and calves. Massage therapists kneaded their knuckles into my lower back. At physical therapy, I was forced to go back to the basics—balancing on one leg, doing body squats, stretching in a pigeon pose. . . After a few months of negligible progress, my coaches, parents, and doctors decided it would be best for me to “take a break” from gymnastics.

Then finally. The accurate diagnosis. Hip dysplasia. My heart dropped. I would need to quit gymnastics. 

An intense ache—this time, not the hip—squirmed into my body, rose to the top, and broke the heart bone in my chest. I could no longer speak the language I had known for eight years. 

I couldn’t sleep. 

I couldn’t eat.

I couldn’t think straight. 

I couldn’t let it be.

I wilted.

Worried that I was depressed, Mom took me to a psychologist, who surprised us with her tips: “Taya must find another passion—something that will make her realize that she’s more than a gymnast.”

Ever since that fifth-place ribbon from my first rhythmic gymnastics competition, all I’d ever been was a gymnast. That’s how I expressed myself. I needed a new language. Opening my laptop, an endless stream of words flowed out through my fingertips.

I didn’t think much of it when I finished typing. It was only when my worried mother checked in on me that I realized a tremendous weight had been lifted off my shoulders. 

“You can read it if you want.”

Mom poured over my words. As I eagerly awaited her reaction, the words of my identity fell back into place, reigniting a familiar spark — one that I had not felt since performing on the stage alongside my supporters.

I had finally found the right definition.



 

Lan•guage (lan’gwij) n. 

1. A form of communication conveyed by speech, writing, and gesture. 

2. I•den•ti•ty (i-den’te’i-ti) n.

[The characteristics and qualities of a person considered essential to that person’s self-awareness]



 

Taya Kim is a high-school junior from Seattle, Washington. Besides creative writing, her hobbies include playing the piano, writing classical music/jazz songs, reading memoirs (I'm Glad My Mom Died is by far her favorite!), and dancing. Taya was a competitive rhythmic gymnast but had to leave the sport due to a serious hip injury. Discovering creative writing has played a crucial role in redefining her identity. After winning the Silver Key for her essay from Scholastic and the Silver Medal from Genius Olympiad 2023, she's excited to dive deeper into the literary magazine world.

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