One of the reasons I wrote Rough and Tumble was because I’m a gymnastics fan. When I started thinking about doing a college sports romance series, gymnastics was the sport on the top of my list. I had to do some research about collegiate gymnastics, but for the sport itself, I just had to go back to the summer of 1976.
I was seven and a half years old that summer, living in south Georgia, and waiting to start third grade—and for my little sister to show up, since my mom was pregnant. It was the Bicentennial year, and it was the year of the Summer Games in Montreal. I didn’t know much about the Olympics back then. I’d watched Dorothy Hamill skate in the Winter Games earlier that year and thought it looked like fun, but when the Summer Games arrived, it was a different sport that caught my attention: gymnastics.
At the 1976 Games, the world found itself captivated by a little Romanian sprite named Nadia Comaneci. Coached by the legendary Bela Karolyi, she stunned the sport of gymnastics by earning the first-ever perfect 10 score at the Olympics. She finished the Games with seven 10s and the individual all-around gold medal.
Unfortunately for any ideas I might have had about trying out gymnastics myself, a couple of weeks after my sister was born that November, I fell out of a tree and shattered my elbow. No round-off, backflip, double somersault tumbling passes for me.
I kept watching gymnastics (and figure skating!) anyway. I remember Kurt Thomas, he of the Thomas flairs, who sadly died earlier this year. I missed out on the 1980 Summer Games like the rest of the United States, as we boycotted Moscow. But in 1984, we were back in Los Angels, and among others, we had Mary Lou Retton, Julianne McNamara, Tim Daggett, and Bart Conner. My sister was old enough to appreciate the sport by then, and we cheered on our new teams to a raft of medals.
Over the next dozen years, I slipped in and out of watching gymnastics. The Olympics were always a given, but often I tuned in for national and world championships, too. Shannon Miller, Dominque Dawes, and a host of others, competing for the United States and otherwise—I watched them all.
Then came 1996.
I still lived in south Georgia then, but with the Summer Games slated for Atlanta, I knew I had to be a part of it. I applied to volunteer and was excited when I was accepted. I’d requested a communications area, since my career then was newspaper writing and editing, and I was assigned to the Press Help Desk at the Georgia Dome, home to Olympic basketball and—you guessed it—gymnastics.
It was an experience I’ll never forget. I got to see some of the gymnastics practices in person, and we had closed-circuit TVs so we could watch the competition events live. That meant that when Kerri Strug landed her gold-medal-winning vault, I was watching it live, hours before the rest of the world would see it. It also meant I was able to go out onto the competition floor to watch the US women’s team receive their gold medals—another moment to remember forever!
The next night was the gymnastics exhibition event, which I was also able to watch in person. The event was hosted by two of my all-time favorites: Nadia Comaneci and Bart Conner! I didn’t dare approach them—in part because I was a volunteer, and I didn’t want to overstep my bounds. But shortly after the exhibition ended, the two of them were standing right outside the door where I was working, clearly waiting for their ride to get back to their hotel.
I gathered up all my nerve, grabbed a copy of the final event results, and headed outside.
Unsurprisingly, they were perfectly nice and gracious. I told Nadia she was the reason I’m a gymnastics fan, and then told Bart he was the reason my sister was, which made him laugh. I got my autographs, thanked them, and got the heck out of Dodge so I wouldn’t overstay my welcome.
I’ve had a few experiences in my life where I’ve been able to meet childhood heroes, and nearly all of them have been great. Nadia and Bart were no exception. My autographs are stashed away with the rest of my Olympics memorabilia, but it’s the memory of meeting them that means the most. And it’s why they’re in the acknowledgments for Rough and Tumble—because they’re a big part of the reason the book exists.
ROUGH AND TUMBLE
The University of Atlanta Series, Book 1
My name’s Grant Clark, and I have managed to screw up my entire life. In triplicate.
Number one: I fell in love with my best friend.
Number two: I thought he was straight.
Number three: Because of number two, I didn’t make a move on number one. Until it was too late.
Or is it?
When I accidentally interrupt him with another guy—and he turns out to be the worst—well, I think it’s time I finally make a move.
Warning: This book contains two men who don’t mind a little humor and heartache as they struggle to find their happily ever after in the aftermath of a toxic relationship.