Feb 12, 2007

"Ladies, Salute!"

by Rene Allen

A month ago, I was putting some serious time into my memoir when the phone rang. It was my photographer son and he was excited. "Mom, I just got a job to shoot 650 gymnasts and it's in two weeks. What am I going to do?"

The problem was the lead time. Two weeks? 650 girls from all over the country? Okay, the boy needed help. His dad and I would do the computers. The event was to be held over a weekend. The idea was to have one computer for each session and gym. There were two gyms in the building that was the size of a football field, and six sessions. Because there was only one session Friday night, we figured we could double up on that one.

My husband is an electrical engineer with an above average propensity for frugality. He put his heart into this project and came home with 10 refurbished Hewlett Packard computers at $55.00 each. The next day, he hit Deseret Industries for 10 monitors at $5.00 each, which was also the last day we saw the top of the kitchen table.

There is an assumption that electrical engineers are all computer whizzes but that isn't necessarily true; also that they are audio-visual wizards, which isn't true, either. My husband had never uploaded a camera card in his life. So he got together with a couple of his engineer friends who were camera geeks and they came up with a plan in which my husband was the chief camera card uploader and file organizer. With the pressure of 80-90 gymnasts competing at the same time and three photographers feeding us pictures, it was like throwing a kid who just learned to dog paddle into the English Channel and telling him to find France.

Friday night was a disaster. We didn't make one sale. Parents didn't get to see pictures of their gymnasts. Of course, all of the photographs would eventually be put on line, but the goal was to have them ready that night. In a gloom of failure, wondering if we should even bother coming back, we left the facility at midnight and regrouped at Applebees to discuss what we should do.

There is life after disaster and it helped to have something to eat. We reviewed the bottlenecks, looked at what was ahead -Saturday had three sessions, both gyms and five photographers- and what we had to do to pull it off. I would help upload pictures. We would burn CDs as soon as there were a hundred pictures on the memory cards instead of waiting for them to be full when they took up to a half hour to upload. One person would do nothing but put the pictures on the Hewlett Packard computers and work with parents. We left at 1 AM with a commitment to be back by 6.

Since a rooster outside the bedroom where I slept started crowing at 4, we were back by 5:30. When the first girl catapulted over the vault at 8:20, we were ready. And it worked. The cards came and we uploaded and burned CDs. My husband made the first sale. Eventually, there were over 6,000 pictures.

We were so functional there was time to watch the events. Girls jumped, twisted and flew in the floor exercises, balanced on the beam, swung on the uneven bars. During team warm-ups, there were as many legs in the air as on the ground. The energy was electric.

Then they came to see themselves on our computers, little girls with their hair pulled into tight buns and sparkling with glitter. They saw their own legs stretched into splits as they leapt four feet above the ground, their faces solemn and focused.

In a nearby corner, the announcer, his voice hugely amplified, pulled the gymnasts together for awards. Up on the podium went the winners, seven in each category, medals strung around their necks and swinging. After declaring the first place winner, the announcer in a rousing voice would say, "Ladies, salute!" The girls would give brilliant smiles, vigorously raise their arms and stretch their fingers skyward, gymnast style, in victory.

Time after time, the words rang through the building. "Ladies, salute!" Salute because you are here. Salute because you bounced back from injury. Salute because you practice 16 hours a week and do all those other things little girls do, too. Salute because you are winners!

As the meet ended, we packed up our computers and monitors, our boxes of cords and cables. There was work yet to do, but here at least, in this giant gymnasium, we were done. Sadly, there was no winners' podium for photographers, but I told ours what a great job they had done. Then, watching a crew take down the equipment, I visited with the president of the organization that hosted the event. "Sometimes, you just have to jump in and do one," he said, a veteran of seven years. "And then, those treasured, wonderful words, "You'll definitely be hearing from us again."

Friday night, we nearly quit.

Life doesn't have many winners' podiums or medals. There are too few cheering crowds. We are taught to enjoy our victories privately and be humble. But when I got home, I stood in front of my bedroom mirror. Now, I'm not nearly as much to look at as I was thirty years ago, but, hey, in my mind I saw the podium and heard the announcer, and with gusto, raised my arms and struck a victory pose.

"Ladies, salute!"


  1. That was really an amazing story. I loved it. It is so hard to continue on in something when you are so ready to quit. But you persevered and was successful. That is so great!

  2. Wow, Rene, I salute you! I loved your words. I particualrly enjoyed the picture you painted of dog paddling in the English channel. Very effective. I could hear and feel the tension in the air as you described your surroundings at the meet. Thanks for the lesson!

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