After writing my first post, and putting myself out there to the public, I was having difficulties trying to write my second post. That was until I came to work in the morning, sat at my desk, and saw the picture that keeps me going on a daily basis. It’s not a picture that is taken at the top of a mountain doing some extreme adventure, or a picture from an island vacation, it’s simply a picture of me and one of my former gymnasts that was given to me as a gift on my last day of coaching life.
I’ve had hundreds of students throughout my coaching career, but one student stands out more to me than any other. Meet Riley:
I first met Riley in 2009 when I started coaching at Golden State Gymnastics, a local non-profit gymnastics academy in Burbank, Ca. She was in the recreational level 1 class and I couldn’t stop looking at her. She reminded me of my younger self, and I was hooked. Not only did she have the natural talent of gymnastics, but she was also very bubbly and had a smile on her face that just glowed and I just knew she was special. I wanted Riley in my own class, and would somehow find a way to make that happen. After subbing her class several times, and finally transferring Riley into my own classes, the fun begun. Cartwheels turned into round offs, handstands turned into handsprings, and forward rolls turned into front tucks. I couldn’t believe the progress she was making on a weekly basis, and I couldn’t wait to see where this would lead us. Even though our practices were only an hour an a half long, they felt several hours long. The way she focused on detailed corrections inspired me to create more detailed instructions. Arriving early to class meant I arrived earlier to work to prepare for the day, being the last one to leave from class made me want to leave work a little later just to make sure I got everything done for that day. Even when her foot was in a cast, she still showed up to the gym because she wanted to make sure she was with the other students and was still able to condition and keep her muscles strong. When the class was on the balance beam, she was on the floor doing sit ups, and would hang on the bars and do her pull ups to keep her arms strong. And if conditioning during practice was not enough for her, she would ask for a list of conditioning she could do at home. Sometimes I wonder what her motivation was. I think I know now.
At the time, she may have been wanting to get stronger for her return to gymnastics, but nature has a way of turning an obstacle into a hidden lesson. I think her broken leg has taught her patience, acceptance, and to appreciate herself. Even though she was part of the recreational program, I would catch her looking off at the competitive team and maybe thinking to herself “Why can’t I do that?”.
The truth is, she could do everything the competitive girls were doing, and even more. But to me, she was more than a gymnast, and I did not want her in the competitive program where the girls would workout anywhere between 20-30 hours a week. Riley had more to offer to the world than to be a gymnast, and I wanted her to know that there was more to the world than gymnastics had to offer her. I wanted her to learn to enjoy her childhood, which I didn’t have much of because I was one of those gymnasts who would spend countless hours at the gym balancing on a beam, swinging on the bars, and running full speed at a stationary object to vault over. Ry was more than that, I strongly believed she deserved a childhood filled with summer camps, science projects, summer vacations, family trips, and most of all enjoy time with her little sister because even her little sister in only little once. I wonder if she ever doubted my decision, and if one day she will look back and ask herself, “What if…”. I hope this will answer that.
I hope one day, you will look back at your gymnastics experience and smile because you did the best you could, and you were great at it. Everyone has a chosen path for them, and for a reason I could never explain in words, I turned your path. I know how much you love gymnastics, and I can still see you doing your handstands, cartwheels, and even back and front tucks on a trampoline, but I want you to understand that there is more to life than gymnastics. I want you to have what I did not have: A memorable childhood. Take a look at your mom and dad. Tell them you love them for everything they have done for you. Enjoy every moment with them, (even the annoying ones where you think they’re embarrassing you) because once you’re a grown up, you’ll wish they could embarrass you more, and say ‘I wish…”. Look at your precious sister, enjoy every second with her. Do more activities with her, and really build a strong bond between the both of you that nobody will ever, ever, ever be able to break. And most importantly, make sure you make time for YOU. Do what Riley wants to do. Make memories, be young, and be free.
In the past, I have been told that I was selfish for not letting you go to team, and that I was re-living my childhood through you, and I wanted to be the one that taught you everything. Just so you know, Ry, I did it for you. I did it because, to me, you were special, you had more to offer to the world, and your family, than cartwheels, handstands, and an awesome back tuck that was so high I could barely spot you (I know you remember that one)! I wanted you to enjoy the every day life, and find other hidden talents that you have. Just know this: What we had in that gym was special. Our relationship, our unbreakable bond, and our crazy water bottle episodes (that nobody can understand, but us) can never be replaced. Gymnastics has been an amazing chapter and story in our lives. We have both grown from it, have learned many different lessons from it, but it was only one small section of our lives. We (yes, now I’m saying we) have so much to learn from life, we have so much more to grow (stop getting taller!!!) and so much more to discover about ourselves.
So, grow. Grow into the beautiful young lady you are going to become. Grow and develop your knowledge in everything and anything you want to know. Grow into the daughter that every mom wishes they had. Grow to do good for the world. Grow, Riley. And never stop, because you know I’ll be right behind you cheering you every step of the way.
With all the love in the world,