In high school, I was a diver – not a good one, but I did dive competitively and briefly enjoyed holding our school’s six-dive score record, and I was at one point good enough to have come just shy of the eleven-dive. I was never going to go to the Olympics, but I know what “the twisties” are even though we didn’t have a word for it way back then (or rather, I was unaware of it).
This was my Freshman year of high school, or maybe sophomore…not positive. In any event, the dive team and I were using the wrestling room to practice various positions (tuck, pike, etc) and to generally build proprioception (body awareness). We got to talking about gymnastics (one of my fellow divers was a gymnast) and I described something called a “dive roll” which I had learned thanks to martial arts practice.
Long story short: a dive roll involves jumping up into the air, usually from a running start, coming down in a dive position, catching yourself with your hands, and then somersaulting out. It’s not terribly difficult.
I went to demonstrate one there in the wrestling room, with its padded floors, and I screwed up so bad that I very easily could have broken my neck (and in fact, as I lay on the ground looking up at the ceiling, I briefly suspected I had).
What happened: instead of simply trotting forward, jumping, landing, tucking, and rolling, my body reflexively began my “hurdle” (that’s the little three-steps-and-a-hop move divers do to reach the end of the springboard). Having started my hurdle, I then (again, reflexively and with very little control or awareness) jumped straight up as though I were attempting a front tuck.
I came down hard – not at a controllable angle in a shoulder-forward position, but straight down on my head. Because my arms did what they were supposed to do and stretched out to break water (that wasn’t there), they instead broke my fall somewhat, but I still took a of pressure to the top of my head and my neck. It hurt, badly, and I had one of those rare glimpses of mortality that only come from the realization that a few more pounds of pressure or a little more zig instead of zag could have ended everything before I could even realize it had happened.
Imagine me, a B- diver almost breaking his neck in a wrestling room, and compare that to Simone Biles, an A+ gymnast, leaping and soaring through the air and then just forgetting where she is or what she’s supposed to be doing. Imagine having to consciously think about how to break your fall from 20 feet above the ground all while your brain refuses to calculate your air speed and time to impact because ultimately human beings aren’t meant to be up that high and in that position!
I had done literally hundreds of dive rolls before – but I had done literally thousands of front-facing dives. One sort of training won out over the other, and my body just did what it thought I wanted it to do. That’s the essence of “the twisties” and it’s why Simone Biles is *RIGHTFULLY* sitting out Olympic competition this summer.
And as I have said elsewhere – anyone who doesn’t accept that can die mad about it.