Dive Right In


By Matt Christopher

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Twelve-year-old Traci Winchell is a gifted gymnast, but lately she’s been having trouble — so much trouble that her coach warns her she may need to drop out or else risk serious injury. Traci wants to find something to fill the void left by gymnastics, but is diving for her?



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First eBook Edition: December 2009

Matt Christopher™ is a trademark of Catherine M. Christopher.

ISBN: 978-0-316-09382-8


Traci Winchell stood motionless on the balance beam, four feet above the mat-covered gym floor. Gracefully, she bent forward, laid her hands on the beam, and kicked up into a handstand. She held it a few seconds before slowly lowering her feet to the beam again.

Traci prepared for her dismount, a series of moves including a cartwheel, a flip, and a forward somersault off the beam. If she did it right, she would land on her feet, motionless.

She didn't do it right. The cartwheel was okay, but Traci's balance went off in the flip. When she hit the mat, she stumbled forward a few steps. Worse, she felt sharp pain in her knees from the force of the landing. Her knees had been giving her trouble recently. She flexed each in turn, scowling.

For many people, just walking on a balance beam without falling would be a challenge. For twelve-year-old Traci, it was as easy as walking on a sidewalk. She had been taking gymnastics classes since she was four. She was good in all the other events in girls' gymnastics—vault, floor exercise, uneven parallel bars—but the balance beam was her favorite. Lately, however, she was having trouble and wasn't sure why.

As she bent to examine her knees, Traci noticed a stranger in the gym, a tall woman with graying blond hair, walking toward her. The woman seemed to be studying her. Traci straightened up.

"Your knees are bothering you." The woman spoke in a matter-of-fact way, without any introduction. "Have you thought about whether gymnastics is really your sport?"

"What?" Traci couldn't believe her ears. "What are you talking about?"

The woman didn't smile, nor did she give a clue as to who she was or what she was doing there. Traci was pretty sure she wasn't anyone's mom, because she'd met all the moms.

The woman said, "I bet you've grown at least three inches in the last year. And put on a lot of weight—mostly muscle."

Traci blinked. The woman was right about that. Traci had grown four inches, and, while she was still thin, she'd added a good deal of muscle, especially in her arms and legs.

The woman turned and gestured to the other girls in the gym. "Look around," she said. "You're the tallest, heaviest girl here. You must have noticed. I'll bet that some girls who weren't as good as you have caught up, maybe gotten better. Like the one who did that vault."

The woman pointed to a slender, dark-haired girl who happened to be Traci's best friend, Valerie Ling. Valerie was the most gifted athlete in class. Because she lived near Traci, the two girls spent a lot of time together.

"The reason your knees are giving you trouble," the woman went on before Traci could think of anything to say, "is that gymnastics is a high-impact sport. It's rough on the knees and ankles. It could get worse, especially if you grow more. Your joints and your gymnastic performance are likely to get worse. You should think about that before real problems develop."

Traci finally found her voice. "Is that so? What should I do, then? Quit? Give up on being an athlete? Is that what you think?"

The woman shook her head. "Not at all. I think you should think about giving up this sport and try a new one."

"Oh, really?" Traci said, not bothering to keep some sarcasm out of her voice.

The woman didn't react. "I was thinking of diving," she said. "Diving doesn't put as much strain on the knees and ankles. And the same athletic skills that made you a promising gymnast—balance, coordination, and strength—will also help to make you a very good diver, if you're willing to work hard at it."

"Diving," Traci repeated. "You think I should try diving."

"I do," the woman replied. "I happen to coach divers, and I know talent when I see it. You're a good prospect, which is why I'm here."

"Trace?" Traci's gymnastics coach, Jeff, was hurrying over. Traci loved Jeff and had worked in his classes for four years. He was a nice, easygoing guy who always had an encouraging word for his students. "I see you two have already met."

Traci looked from the woman to her coach. "You know her?" she asked him.

"Sure do," said Jeff with a smile. "This is Margo Armstead." He paused, as if expecting Traci to react to the name. But it meant nothing to her. "Margo's a great diving coach. When she heard about you, she was eager to meet you. So I invited her to come."

"She heard about me?" Traci repeated. "From who?"

"I have to go to my own classes now," said Margo, reaching into a canvas tote bag she was carrying. "Traci, I think you might have the makings of a good diver, if you want to be. Please think about it and let me know whether you are interested. Here's my number." She pulled a card from the bag and gave it to Traci. With a nod to Jeff, she turned and walked away.

Traci stared after her and then looked at Jeff. The coach looked unhappy, as if he'd been caught doing something he shouldn't have done. "Jeff, did you tell that woman about me?"

Jeff took a deep breath. "Her name is Margo Armstead. Yes, I told her about you."

Valerie Ling came hurrying over, but slowed down as she sensed that Jeff and Traci were having a serious talk.

"Why?" asked Traci.

"I thought it would be a good idea."

"Why?" Traci asked again. "Is what she said true? About me, I mean."

"Trace?" Valerie said. "Something wrong?"

Traci didn't answer Valerie; she kept her attention focused on the coach. "That woman said—"

"Her name is Margo," said Jeff.

Traci shrugged. "Margo said because I grew so much I'll never be a top gymnast. I'll mess up my knees and I won't get any better."

Jeff held up a hand. "She didn't say that you would never get any better."

"You know what I mean," Traci snapped, feeling a little panicky. Gymnastics had been the most important thing in her life for almost as long as she could remember. "Is what she says right? Is that why you told her about me, because I'll never be a top gymnast? Do you want me out?"

"Trace, you're welcome to stay in my class as long as you want," the coach assured her. "You know I'd never kick you out."

"But is Margo right?" Traci repeated. "That's what I want to know."

Jeff sighed. "Well… okay. I've been putting this off for a while, but it isn't fair to you not to talk about it."

Traci felt her panic rise higher. "Talk about what?"

"What's going on?" asked Valerie, looking worried for her friend.

Jeff looked at Traci steadily. "You have grown a lot this past year. You're the tallest girl here by three inches. And you're heavier. Once, this wouldn't be a drawback. Years ago, many top gymnasts were big. But now… you see world-class competition on TV, Trace. They're almost all slender and not tall."

"What are you telling me?" asked Traci, unable to keep her voice from trembling.

Jeff looked distressed. "Trace, you want a shot at the top. That won't happen for you in gymnastics."

Traci felt her eyes begin to tear.

"That's why I called Margo," Jeff went on. "You have the skills and attitude of a great athlete. But, if you want to excel, gymnastics isn't for you. Not anymore."

This isn't happening, Traci thought, her stomach churning.

"Margo is a great coach," Jeff went on. "She's coached a few Olympic medalists. She didn't say that you might be a good diver to make you feel good. Margo always says what she thinks. If you want to keep working with me, that's fine, but you should know that your prospects are limited. And Margo's right about you risking serious knee problems down the line as a gymnast."

Valerie squeezed Traci's hand as Traci fought back tears.

"Anyway," said Jeff, "think it over, okay? If you want to talk, I'm available."

Traci spent the rest of practice in a daze. Later, she walked home with Valerie. Neither girl spoke at first. Traci didn't feel up to it. Finally, Valerie broke the silence.

"You probably won't see it this way, but this could be a good thing. Margo is obviously a hot coach. I mean, she's worked with Olympic medalists! Maybe you should call her."

Traci stared at Valerie. "But I'm a gymnast!" She couldn't believe her best friend was betraying her like this.

"What if you wreck your knees?" Valerie's face was pinched with concern.

Traci shook her head. "I don't know. Margo was cold. I didn't like her."

Valerie turned as they reached her gate. "Well, I'll see you. And you should think about it. I'd love to have a coach who's worked with Olympic medalists."

The girls hugged, and Traci headed for home. No way! she thought to herself. I couldn't be a diver.

But another voice in her head said, You sure about that?


Traci usually ate a big dinner, but this evening she pushed the food around on her plate.

"Sweetie, are you feeling all right?" Mrs. Winchell asked.

Traci nodded. "Yeah, I guess."

"When you don't eat, something's wrong," Mr. Winchell said. "What is it?"

Traci explained what had happened in gymnastics class. Her mother looked sympathetic. "We know what this means to you, but if there's a risk of permanent knee damage, then it's a good thing your coach spoke up."

"What's the diving coach's name?" asked Pete, Traci's sixteen-year-old brother.

Traci made a sour face. "Margo Armstead," she said.

Pete laughed. "I was going to ask what she's like, but from the look on your face, I already have an idea. Not your kind of person, huh?"


On Sale
Dec 19, 2009
Page Count
144 pages

Matt Christopher

About the Author

Matt Christopher is the best-selling name behind more than 100 sports-themed books for young readers.

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