Well, here we are again, approaching the end of another season of gymnastics. I am sitting in the airport waiting to board a plane to Portland, Oregon. Portland is where all the young gymnastic men, that qualified, will gather this year to compete in the Jr. Men’s Olympic Nationals. It has been another year of ups and downs, just like all the rest, except this year had all kinds of other challenges that made gymnastics seem that much more challenging. In my experience, boys reach the age of 14 −15 and life can become quite overwhelming, for both them and their parents. It is a time of change and growth, not just in their bodies, but how they think, feel and see the world. It is often the beginning of their manhood and interest in girls, struggles with studies and pressure by friends. The natural athletic ability of some has been overshadowed by those that simply work harder than those that don’t. These boys are no longer children, but not men and they often press the boundaries of authority to see what part of the transition they are in. When they are questioned they could cry or get angry. No one knows, not even them, what each day will bring. The best advise I ever received, the first time I went through this was, “don’t ride the roller coaster with them. If you stay on solid ground they will always know where to find you.”
It is like a roller coaster. One day they will be on top of the world and all is right. The next it could be that they have no friends and are not good at anything. This year it has been no different for my son. School seems overwhelming, girls are constantly texting to the point of distraction and gymnastics has been…interesting. The season began like others have. My son has always improved his skills as well as his scores as the season goes along. This year however, I wasn’t sure what was going on. I even asked the question…are you done with the sport? The answer was no, but I was not sure what to do. Each meet was a series of, “maybe he will do that better next time.” There were events that he would do great and others were at times, difficult to watch. Each time he would get on the pommel I would rejoice, if we did not fall off. From November to February we held on and tried to just keep the spirit light and encouraging.
Then in February came the Las Vegas meet. I sent my husband and his friend to Vegas, because it was their birthdays and my son because it was his meet. The day of the meet the texts started coming and it wasn’t good. The last text read, “Worst meet he has had in a long time, going out for birthday dinner, call you later.” It is moments like that you take inventory, you wonder if looking back you will regret choices made and paths chosen. If the agony of defeat is really building character or if it’s something we say to help heal the wounds. Much like the age or Colorado weather…if you don’t like what’s happening wait ten minutes, or in this case the next meet. The attitude was different, the skills were better and the outcome…3rd overall and 1st in 2 events and top 5 in 2 others. My son hoped into the car and stated that he was third this time and next meet he would be second, well ok, now were talking. What I am saying, as a mom, was that it wasn’t about where he was placing. It was, that he was remembering the joy in doing the sport again and it’s hard to watch your child when they don’t smile, barley talk and often cry after a meet. There is only so much a mother’s heart can take.
The next meet was State, 1st in floor, 2nd in vault, 3rd in pommel, yes pommel and 3rd all around. The spirit was still great, we only fell on 1 event and there were smiles. Another thing that needs to be said for how I gage success at a meet is when my son walks to the car, by himself, in one piece. Let there be no doubt about the risk involved with gymnastics. It is a dangerous and demanding sport. The only way to understand how I watch it, is to understand that once again, my son was born to do this and the things that I would find him doing without mats were terrifying, now at least there are mats and coaches to teach him how to do those things. I also pray…a lot, for all my kids. I pray that there would be a hedge of protection around them, because life can be dangerous, not just gymnastics.
It was on to Regionals. As I sat and watched I began to think about the journey it had taken us to get here. Not just this year, but for the past 6 years. The hours of watching, for 30 seconds of cheering, the miles traveled, the pain, both physical, as well as emotional. Not just for the gymnast, but the people that love him. I sat and pondered…life. Then the moment came for my son to do his floor routine. It has always been one of my favorites to watch him do. He is strong and amazing when he does it. And when he does his Chinese handstand, people stop and watch. It did not disappoint, in fact, it was beautiful. I have seen it many times and with each pass, I felt my heart leap. It was done and it was magic, but judges don’t always see what you do. We waited and then it happened, they did see what I saw, they thought it was magic too and gave him a 14.45 out of 15. They said to my son, you were .55 from perfect and for gymnastics that might as well be perfect. I was so happy for him and thankful that he would be rewarded for all his hard work and thankful for his gifts.
But again, like Colorado weather, teenage boys and gymnastics, just wait. He was in the top scorers, in the 1st 4 events and poised to take 1st in Regionals. With the floor, it seemed like a sure thing. The vault was usually an event my son did well at, even when he struggled at meets. He warmed up and looked fine. My sons vault begins with a round-off back, hand spring, onto the vault. To paint a picture, he is upside down and backwards when his hands are trying to find the vault to land on and then flip off of. The mat was in the wrong place and my son missed the spring-board and landed with his head on the vault. His neck bent backward and his head scraped across the vault. Silence filled the spaces in the gym. He got up, talked to his coaches and before I could breathe he was running back down the mat toward the vault. He sailed through the air, end over end and landed, saluted the judges, walked to the chairs, sat down and cried. He was hurt and then I began to cry and run. I ran downstairs and got his coaches attention. “Is he alright, we need to get him ice, what can I do, is he going to finish the last event or is he done.”
Even more questions filled my head than came out of my mouth, like “why do I let my son do this sport?” That was the big one, the unspoken one, I feel each time he gets hurt or feels pain, inside or out. The one that every mom feels when you can’t protect the people you love, from the things they love. I guess the answer is you don’t, you just love them, keep praying and find the strength to let go when it is time to do so.
The result, because of vault, was that he finished 5th overall, and 1st on floor. I could not have been prouder of him had he finished 1st overall, he persevered, he showed his passion and love for a sport that does not always love him back. He made the Regional team and here we are on our way to Nationals for the whole next chapter in this drama we call gymnastics and the unconditional and enduring love of a mom for her son.