How My Experiences in Winterguard Helped Me Become Who I Am and Shape What I Believe Today

This post is in response to another blog post that was shared today via Facebook. It got me so inspired I couldn’t just post a small comment and leave it at that, I had to write about it. You can read the post HERE. Settle in….this is gonna be a long one….

So what is Winterguard? It’s kinda hard to explain so I would suggest watching THIS VIDEO.

If my parents read this post they are probably going to roll their eyes because I reference my experience with Sarajevo Winterguard probably more times than they would care to hear about. They probably think I talk about it in order to rub my high school senior year rebellion in their face, but I don’t see it that way. (At least not anymore ;-D) To me it is a legitimately important event in my life and I learned SO MANY life lessons from my experience.

Why?

Let me start from the beginning.

When I joined the high school band in 10th grade, I did it under some level of protest. I was kinda NOT into the flute as much as thought I needed to be in order to enjoy the experience and I think I already knew then what I know now, that I was NOT going to be a musician. I just HATED practicing. Plus, in my soon to be 10th grade mind, I though taking a keyboarding class (which was at the same time as band) would be much more useful to me in life, because I had missed the opportunity to take the class in junior high due to us moving around. Boy was I wrong, and to this day I have DISMAL typing skills. I have never taken any kind of typing or keyboarding and so as I type this, my constant backspacing is reminding me of my lack of formal training due to the fact that I did indeed end up taking band instead of keyboarding. Why? The band director himself, none other than the great Barry Harper, called me up. I don’t remember the conversation specifically, but I do remember him saying something about my great talent, and how it could serve the band well, and basically, ARE YOU NUTS? BAND IS AWESOME! Well, he made his case well, regardless of what he actually said at the time, and I ended up switching back into band class.

Well, my sophomore year in marching band was OK. I hated memorizing music though, and all that precision marching…..I honestly just wasn’t that good at it. Now, my best friend Laura, was also in the band but she had joined the colorguard. And for all of marching season I watched her dancing and spinning and, in my mind, having WAY MORE FUN than me. I was jealous. I wanted THAT.

Well, the next year I was determined to do colorguard. I went to auditions and from the moment I caught my first toss I was hooked. It was this cool rowboat toss you caught with one hand from the side while up on your tiptoes. It was the most elegant thing I had ever done and it was addicting. I then spent my junior year acting like a floozy from Moulin Rouge (our show that year). As a mormon, I felt quite scandalous! It was invigorating, to take on a persona that was so different from who I was. Needless to say, it was SO MUCH FUN!

Well, the next year I tried out for captain, and even though I had only done it for one season, they picked me! I remember the “judges” asking me what made me better than the other candidates, especially in light of my lesser experience, and my response was “I don’t think I’m better than anyone, but I do know I LOVE COLORGUARD!” I guess that was a good answer! I was so excited and felt so empowered, to actually be kind of good at something, because in most other areas of my life, I was not confident. I didn’t feel pretty enough, or skinny enough (although I would kill to be that size again now :-D), you know, typical high school insecurities. While being in colorguard didn’t make any of that go away in my life, when I was out performing on the field I could forgot all of it, even for just a moment.

Ok, Getting back to winterguard. My first exposure to the activity was through some fellow colorguard teammates who had joined a group called Sarajevo, an Independant A Class (meaning NOT associated with a school) winterguard based in Fayetteville. My junior year, I got to go with a friend to Tulsa to a WGI Regional Championship and watched her compete with them in person. I got that same feeling again, jealousy. I want THAT. Only this time, there was a catch.

Not only were there monetary DUES involved, there was an even bigger problem….. They rehearsed on SUNDAYS. Both were BIG obstacles. Not only was my family on a VERY tight budget, we were also a MORMON family, and we just don’t do things like that on Sundays. Did I let that deter me? I THINK NOT!!!

The moment I knew I made the team I was applying for my first job at Chick-fil-A. Money for dues? Check! Now…. Sunday practice…. my parents were very clear. They weren’t going to stop me, but they also were not going to help. I didn’t have a driver’s license yet, but I was lucky enough to have a teammate whose mother was willing to drive us both up to practice in Siloam Springs, a 30-40 minute drive from Fayetteville. So, every Sunday (AFTER church of coarse!) for most of the 2nd half of my senior year of high school I practiced with the team on Sundays, plus traveled on many Saturdays to various competitions mostly in Oklahoma.  All in preparation for the main event…WGI World Championship in San Diego!

One particular Sunday I was at practice, and we were kind of in a break, and I was working on a solo I had been given that involved this lofty 45 degree toss. Well… I was doing the toss again, and again, and again, until one time….BAM! I had overthrown the toss and the end of the pole went straight to my mouth. Instant, terrible pain! Then the blood came, I had gashed my lip open, and then….OH MY GOD MY TOOTH, no wait, TEETH!!!!! I had shattered two of my teeth. All hell broke loose in the gym. One teammate was picking up tooth bits, my director was trying to get me to show him. NO!!!!! I finally cracked my mouth open to show him, and the pain seared through me as the air hit my exposed nerves. It was surreal and disorienting. Well….after I calmed down a bit….I realized I would have to call my parents to come get me in Siloam Springs. My dad came and got me, and was very compassionate about my situation.  I felt so ashamed and embarrassed. I had hoped to be able to leave them out of my crusade to be a part of this team despite their objections, but I had failed. I felt so guilty and vulnerable, I was practically missing 2 teeth, so I looked REALLY WEIRD. Well, my dentist came in to the office, gave me stitches in my lip and gave me a much needed Novocaine shot. He covered the exposed nerves with some kind of coating and told me to come in first thing the next day. The next day he reconstructed the shattered teeth, he made them look just like new (and they have held up beautifully for almost 10 years now)! So all was well right? Well, not so much.

The next Sunday I was at church and I was telling my friends and leaders about my harrowing experience (probably with some embellishments), and later on, I found myself alone with one of my leaders who had heard my story earlier on. She calmly said to me, “Now you see? This is what happens when you break the Sabbath by choosing to practice on Sundays!” I felt winded. I already felt guilty enough about the whole thing, with defying my parents and all, and them having to come get me, and pay for an expensive tooth reconstruction. I ran from the church building all the way home (we lived just down the street). Fueled by my anger I was never more ready for a rehearsal. When I showed up at practice later on, everyone was so surprised I came back! “We thought you were gonna quit!” Well, I wasn’t surprised, I knew what I wanted, and I was not giving up that easily!

Throughout the rest of the season I trained harder than I ever had before. I ended up being moved into a “weapon” spot, doing more rifle and sabre, learning all kinds of new skills and being challenged. It was hard and I had millions of bruises but I learned so much about what my body was capable of doing. I felt an empowerment that to this day I have yet to reproduce on such a scale.

Another thing that I feel is important to mention is that in my experience with winterguard I had my first friendships with people who also happen to be gay. Up until this time, all I ever heard about homosexuals was mostly from certain people at church. That they were perverse, sinful, and undesirable people. I learned very quickly how ignorant and cruel these types of comments are and I now believe that people who believe such things are themselves the people who are perverse, sinful, and undesirable.
(I wish to say here that these comments were from a select few people, and DO NOT represent the majority of LDS people in my experience, and that the LDS church has now in recent years taken some small steps toward being more tolerant and supportive of the LGBT community…. I know, I know….what about Prop 8?!?! but I’m telling you, from an insider’s view, trust me, there has been SOME progress).
All in all, my gay friends and instructors were some of the happiest, funniest, most optimistic people I have ever met, and I wouldn’t trade those friendships I had and still have for ANYTHING. They are some of the best people I have ever known, and my first experiences with them has thankfully helped shape me into someone very much supportive of the LGBT community.

Now, to top the whole thing off, I was able to use the skills I learned in Sarajevo later on and teach the sport I loved so much to others (including my sister Leah!) when I got to work as a colorguard director for Fayetteville High School under Barry Harper, the same teacher who wisely called me up and convinced me not to give band up. Talk about a full circle experience.

This has turned into a very long post, but I really wanted to give the experience some justice. In summary what I learned from my experience with both marching band, colorguard, and winterguard are:

1. Sacrificing my formal training in typing ended up not being that bad – I just ended up with my own special style!
2. You don’t have to be the best at something to succeed, if you love what you’re doing, you will succeed.
3. If you want something enough, even if there are obstacles, you can make a way!
4. Don’t let people’s ignorant comments stop you from pursuing your dreams and goals. Follow your own heart. Guilt is not necessarily the product of some sin, but possibly from a feeling of being judged based on what OTHERS think are sins. I don’t believe my Sunday rehearsals were sinful. I just don’t.
5. Gay people are awesome.
6. Everything happens for a reason. I didn’t know why I was rejoining band at the time, but look what happened!
7. There are probably infinity other things I could list but I’m starting to get tired!

Till Next!
Samantha

P.S. Here is a picture of me with my teammates after we took first place at a state championship! Look at those scandalous halter tops!!! Gasp!!! I felt I was really pushing the envelope at the time!

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