At 36, I Learned to Backflip Like Biles

I spent six months working on the double twist but couldn’t get further than one-and-a-half rotations. The double seemed beyond my grasp.

Meanwhile, my six-year-old daughter, Sydney, had made the gymnastics team at Hill’s Gymnastics—a fantastic club near our home, where Olympians have trained. She had a goal of her own: a roundoff back handspring without a spot. Until she mastered that skill, she would not be allowed to compete in the floor event, but she was scared. So I offered her a deal. I told her that when she found the bravery and fierceness to do her roundoff back handspring, I would find the same fierceness in myself to land a double twist.

It sounds like a brilliant parenting tactic from your friendly motivational mom. But really, I was buying myself time. My daughter still seemed pretty far away from mastering her goal, so I figured I had plenty of time to deal with my own fear. But my daughter surprised me. My challenge sparked her competitive drive, and she landed her roundoff back handspring—without a spotter—that very week. Uh-oh.

When I went to my gymnastics class that week, I reminded myself of how brave my six-year-old daughter had been. How she had set a goal for herself that seemed big and scary, and then mustered up the bravery to accomplish it. And then I went for it.

And I absolutely killed it—sticking the landing.

I did another one, and another one, and then asked a friend to record it so I could show Sydney when I got home. She was as proud of me as I was of her.

I was so excited about my Biles-esque goal, I posted it to Twitter—and it went viral. Apparently “middle aged, out-of-shape lawyer channels her inner Simone Biles” resonates for more people than I could have imagined. My back layout with a double twist currently has almost two million views.

I’m still taking my out-of-shape, overworked appellate lawyer self to class each week—and loving every minute. Now I want to improve my fitness level not out of self-consciousness with my appearance but because it’ll help me do harder and harder gymnastics skills. Plus, I know I’ll be a better tumbler than Syd for a limited period of time—she’s bound to exceed my skill level at some point—and I have to milk that for as long as I can.

After accomplishing a move I never in a million years thought I’d be able to do, I’ve set a new goal, which seems even more impossible: a double back somersault. To do a double back, you have to jump high enough into the air and complete two backflips before landing on your feet, which requires some serious athleticism. It’s daunting but I know I can do it. And I’ll even take that attitude to my professional goal: arguing a case in the Supreme Court.

Jaime Santos is a graduate of Harvard Law School and a partner in the Supreme Court and Appellate Litigation Practice at Goodwin Procter in Washington, DC. She is also a co-host of the popular Supreme Court podcast, Strict Scrutiny.

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