When I took the first jump, I understood.
I realized that was the right place for me, the one where I had to be.
I realized that I would never need to try anything else.
It helped that I was tall, strong, coordinated.
It helped that I had a natural predisposition.
But there was also something else, something intangible, which I immediately felt.
Something indescribable, but perfect: like those mornings when you wake up and have the absurd certainty of being invincible, that everything will be perfect and that that will be a day to remember.
A feeling, a sensation, a spark that suddenly gave a very specific purpose to my passion, to that fire of competitive anger that had always burned me inside.
It took all my thoughts, and made an idea of them.
The very first memories of my life are all a little faded, lost among the stories of others and the little that I am still convinced that I really remember.
I know for a fact, that I loved the sea, and when my little brother was born, I just kept asking my mom when she would take us to the beach.
We grew up in a tourist area, and I was so in love with the sea that I spent my time humming a song for it, in honor of it: I used to dedicate an old rhyme to it that talked about its secrets and its mysteries.
Mysteries that I thought I knew, and that I promised to keep forever.
But if I silence that memory, all the other images from my childhood and adolescence have to do with sports.
And, above all, with the way I live it.
Our parents were both PE teachers, and Dad also coached the local basketball team. Thus, our days, as soon as we left the schoolyard, developed entirely around sport.
Basketball, improvised athletics competitions: even the simplest "hide and seek" always ended up becoming a reason for challenge, competition, comparison.
It was built around sport.
I was the kind of girl who went out as soon as lunch was finished and only came back at ten in the evening, when there was no longer a thread of light to see the ball and while my mother, exasperated, shouted my name loudly from the balcony.
There was something truly unique about me.
Like a switch, impossible to steer.
Like a desire that never leaves you, even if you don't know exactly why and even if you don't know when it first crossed your brain.
I preferred the company of the boys, because they were even more competitive than the girls, and I got very angry when they tried to exclude me from the games they considered "their", such as football.
Always seeking comparison was a trait of my character, not just my way of understanding sport.
My parents say that even table games, with me, could quickly end in disgrace: a game of Monopoly, as long as I won, went smoothly, but if something in my real estate empire started to creak, I was able to close the game in a second, for me and for everyone else.
I had an indomitable temperament, oriented to the challenge, always looking for a personal affirmation, a clue to understand who I was and how far I could go.
It is not an easy quality to have, especially when you are the only person who feels like you are still in the race for something, while those around you are just trying to have fun.
I always played to finish first and it was in sport that I found the balance to transform all this into something extremely positive.
Everyone expected a lot from me.
Everyone expected a World Record every time I got on the field.
But the pressures of others were not a problem at all, because I expected the World Record plus an inch, every time I got on the field, and it was in the morning, at the mirror, that I had to face my worst critic.
I had to learn to manage the anger of defeat, like it or not, because in sport only tomorrow counts, and, very often, that tomorrow is built on the emotional disaster of a bad night.
Get better, get stronger: victory caresses you, and it lasts as long as it takes to get home. Losing, on the other hand, disappointing yourself, leaves a bruise, stays on you, and you have to be able to go through all the stages of grief in the shortest possible time, because in a few days you have to be ready to start over.
And, once there, who you have been until yesterday, what you have won in the past and how you feel don't really matter to anyone.
If I look back, it is evident that my best victories were born from the worst defeats, in a cause-and-effect relationship that is much easier to understand today, that I don't jump any more, than it was then, with all the emotions of the moment.
Also for this reason, of all sports, the high jump was the right sport for me.
He was the only one capable of filling my body and my mind, always giving me something to think about, something to train for.
The only sport in which I was able to transform even the darkest moments into positive energy. The only one in which I never got bored, even facing the longest training sessions and the endless series of details that you have to take care, to compete at the highest level. The only one that was able to give me a challenge so difficult that it was never enough for me.
Nothing can compete with the feeling you get in a full stadium, when you are on your third attempt for a measure that is worth-gold, three hours after the start of your competition.
The body is shattered, the nerves are just under the skin, and just when the energies are running out, you are asked to express your best, maybe even do something that no one has ever done before.
The high jump asks everything of you.
And you have to be ready to give it to it.
Starting from sharing the emotions you feel inside, jump after jump, communicating with the public, letting the most hidden parts of you come out, because it is from that flow of energy that you take what you need to jump over the bar.
It is the beauty of ‘now or never’ feeling that makes you discover something about yourself, in the emotion of the moment.
Now that I don't jump anymore, and that I'm about to become a mom, I am fully aware that there are things far more important than a World Title or a World Record, but if I have been able to find myself along the way I must thank also, if not above all, sport.