Life lessons, bonding at gym meet
Memphis served as the place surrounding a lot of hype last weekend. I'm not referring to Elvis' birthday or the Confederate 901 protesters.
The Memphis Cook Convention Center was the place to be for a pretty big USAG regional gymnastics meet Jan. 5-7.
After countless hours of preparation and excitement about a meet quite a distance from home, my daughter joined her teammates for probably her largest competition to date. Lessons learned from the past years of hard work were utilized and new lessons were learned.
Dani, almost 8 now, has been taking gymnastics since she was under 2, when she and I took a Mommy & Me class together.
I joke with people at times saying I'm waiting for her to lose interest or talent but neither seem to be in sight.
Despite the expense of being on a competitive travel team and an even bigger time commitment, gymnastics is Dani's "life" -- as she often puts it. She is one of the youngest on the team in her advanced level and has more focus as it relates to gymnastics than anything else in her life.
There's not a night that goes by that she's not either at the gym or practicing her skills and routines at home on the trampoline, beam, floor, bed, couch or whatever surface -- appropriate or not -- she can find.
"Mama, watch this!" are her most frequently used words.
I have to give her credit, I really do. Even though there have been times I have wanted to give up on gymnastics, I easily see her enthusiasm. Her dad and I want to help her succeed in her journey, however long it lasts.
Dani has competed in many meets over the last few years, but none topped Memphis in terms of scale, participation and pressure. I could feel it in the air as the hype escalated each day, hour and minute leading up to the meet.
Many parents made a weekend out of the meet by visiting tourist attractions in Memphis -- not the protests -- and gathering for a team party the night before competition. It was fun.
The experience reminded me so much of my childhood, when I traveled with my mother to horse shows out of town. The experience of the trip was perhaps as exciting as the competition itself.
Dani has been on fire the last few months, especially at practice. Her last meet, held in Columbia, reflected how much she's taken off. She won the three out of four events and left with a gold in the all-around competition.
Last year was tough for her, and she needed that confidence boost.
The only downside of her recent success is that the expectations she's placed upon herself have become elevated. I had a feeling in my gut that Dani would be very disappointed if Memphis didn't turn out like Columbia.
When the morning of the meet arrived, I knew Dani's nerves may be an issue because the first thing out of her mouth when she woke up in the hotel room after a good night's rest were, "I don't feel good." Shortly thereafter, she said something like, "I don't think I'm going to win but as long as I do my best that'd good, right?"
The first words bothered me most because I know with not feeling well comes not eating. Dani is not a great eater anyway, especially in the morning, and forcing her to eat never ends well.
She had one bite of breakfast and then we spent a few hours in the room on hair, getting dressed, hair, hair spray, hair again, hair glitter, redo hair, butt glue, and fixing the pony tail before heading to the convention center.
Upon arrival, I think I was more nervous and excited than Dani. I love the atmosphere of competition and this was a really nice venue with lots of skilled gymnasts.
Once it was her team's turn, it was by luck of the draw that beam came first for our girls and I'll admit, I had to catch myself from showing that I knew doing the beam first was not a lucky draw for Dani.
Beam is her weakest event and with the nerves on display I worried if she didn't do well on it she wouldn't get the momentum she would need to perform well on the other events.
Dani's turn on the beam was about mid-way through the lineup of others in her group to perform and I knew she was shaky as I watched her wait. (Not sure which cute little gymnast is Dani? Just look for the one with her nails in her mouth as she stares at the beam with the fear of God in her eyes.)
She did not land her cartwheel, but finished strong. (I'm amazed by the beam. I can't walk a straight line sober, and how these girls do what they do on a beam while nervous is literally beyond my comprehension.)
As I feared, Dani looked discouraged after the beam event. Her scores weren't terrible, but no one did their best and several girls looked "off" as a likely result of nerves. I saw a few tears, but mostly little girls who looked pales as ghosts as they waited for the next event, which in this case was the floor.
The floor is Dani's thing. She's got the bounce, the power and thankfully now the refinement to entertain her fans and pull off good scores most of the time.
She pulled it off but, again, it wasn't her best routine ever. She ended with a mediocre score that was good enough for us to look toward the vault. We're told by coaches this is her best skill of all -- on a good day when she holds it together and doesn't freeze.
She managed make it over the vault but her legs were not tight and I saw in her eyes the disappointment she felt.
This is where the real story begins about the real lesson of Memphis.
Three out of four events were complete and Dani had managed to hold it together despite the circumstances. Then, out of the blue, she and her coach started walking toward her father and me. Dani was sobbing.
"I don't feel good," she cried, sincerely. "I want to scratch on bars. I am sick."
We started to lecture her at first about it being her fault for not eating more and telling her she wasn't sick, but rather hungry.
Her dad played the emotional support role while I tried to give a motivational speech to get her back in the game. She cried more.
"I'm sick! Why don't you believe me?" she cried.
She agreed to warm up on the bars and give it a try, which she did, only do repeat the crying episode and approach us again.
"I can't do it," she cried. "If you won't let me scratch, I'm only going to touch the bar when it's my turn and settle for a bad score."
I don't truly know what was wrong with her, but she was very upset. Jack surrendered and said "OK, go get your bag baby and we'll head out."
I, even quicker, snapped at him and used my Ace card. I told him we are co-parents and he doesn't get to just make a decision like that without my consent!
Thankfully, he agreed with me and allowed me to take over.
I firmly told Dani she had to do the bars. I told her I understood she felt bad, but she was almost done and needed to push through the challenge.
She'd worked too hard to give up, and yes, this is about life -- not gymnastics.
Dani isn't mature enough to make every decision for herself and I'm glad we made this one for her because she left the meet a stronger gymnast, and person.
The funny thing is she got through her routine just fine and even placed (her only time to place at this meet).
As we left, Dani held onto me tightly as I carried her out of the convention center. "I'm sorry mom." "Are you mad at me?" "I really don't feel good." "I am sorry."
I explained how proud I was of her for pushing and told her I only pushed her to do it because I knew she was capable.
She thanked me. She thanked me for carrying her. She thanked me for making her finish. Then she thanked me for being her mom.
By no means am I super mom. I make plenty of mistakes and second guess myself constantly. But I have to say this situation gave me a chance to share something special with Dani.
Lessons were learned on many levels. I'm hopeful she won't skip breakfast again -- but I'm certain she'll think twice before giving up.
* Sadie Fowler is the editorial director for Dabora Inc. headquartered in Shelbyville and may be reached at Fowler@horseworld.net.