Sunday, November 21, 2010

What's the Worst That Could Happen

The first gymnastics meet of the season was this weekend in Van Buren, Arkansas. Jakob has spent much of the last month dreading the day. I have a hard time understanding the stress he feels but I am not the one who has to stand in front of the judges, rows of parents and other competitors, all the while performing skills that are difficult to do when nobody is watching or grading you. I like to think if it were me, I would be looking forward to cleaning up the competition the way he always seems to do. Well, except for this particular meet, when his worst fears would be realized.

The first meet always seems to be the hardest for him. In the last month I have been showing him the videos of past meets at the beginning of a season. I thought it would help if he saw that his routines are never perfect the first time he competes them. It takes an entire season of smoothing out the details before the end of the season when they can be performed mistake free. This year, he is actually much further along than he normally is. He almost has all the skills in all six routines down, including the bonuses. Bonuses being extra skills that make the routine harder but yield larger scores.

Despite being better prepared than ever before, he was still feeling the nerves as we drove to Arkansas to put him to the test. I always ask, what exactly are you afraid of? If you know what the specific fear is, you can develop a plan to face and overcome it, so that it no longer stands in between you and reaching your goals. He shares the same fear we all do, failure. What will happen if I mess up or can't do it? The obligatory lessons I try to impart about just showing up and doing your best are still things I struggle with as an adult. As a competitive child who strives to win, who usually does win, such noble lessons probably sound like nonsense.

Aside from his usual pre-meet jitters, once inside the gym, he had his game face on and looked ready to go. His first event was high bar. His warm up had gone well and I watched as he stepped up and saluted the judge fully expecting him to start the meet off strong. Around and around the bar he swung, legs were straight, toes were pointed. A couple of small breaks in form but still looking sharp. Nearing the end of the routine, he came around the bar again to begin one of the final skills where he lets go of the bar with one hand and turns his body to swing back the other direction. That is when it happened. His swing took him a bit too high causing him to lose his balance and forcing him to bail off the bar.

One fall is not so bad. A single point is all that's lost. But it wasn't simply falling that he would have to deal with. His fall was actually well controlled and he was going to land on his feet. Unfortunately, as he landed he rolled his right ankle spraining it. He was unable to finish the routine. Now he was realizing his worst fears for a meet. Not only would he not be able to get back on and finish his high bar routine, there would be no way he could do the high impact floor routine. No possible way to run full speed and vault. He would be unable to do the layout back flip dismount from parallel bars or the double back flip planned for rings. In the middle of the first of six routines, his meet was essentially over.

He handled the situation in a manner that made me proud. He didn't cry or refuse to go on. They put ice on the ankle and taped it up. He decided with his coach to stay and do what he could. They would finish pommel horse, rings and parallel bars and just take the deductions for skipping the dismounts. Vault and floor would have to be skipped altogether as there is no way to perform them without being able to run, jump and land on both feet. Even if he performed every move he was still capable of doing without a single deduction, he would have no chance of a competitive score.

As it turns out, "failure" was not as bad as it had seemed in his dreams. His world did not crumble. His friends were still there for him. Sure there is disappointment when a situation takes a turn you hadn't hoped for but there are also valuable lessons to be learned. Lessons about continuing on the best you can, even when it's not the way you had planned or hoped for. There are lessons about keeping on your smile and hanging in for the rest of your team even when you are in pain. And of course, the lessons he will learn over the next month about overcoming an injury and getting back on the horse.

It might seem nice if life always worked out the way we hoped it would. However, we wouldn't have a chance to learn all those valuable lessons we learn when life takes those turns we dread and fear the most. Those are the moments when true character shows. Anyone can smile when they are standing on top of the podium. The question is, are they able to smile when they are standing at the bottom? The answer for Jakob was yes. As a parent I could see and feel his disappointment as he looked to the boy in first place at the top of the podium, but as he accepted his ribbon for last place he graciously smiled and held his head high.

Week of November 15 - 64 Bike, 15 Run


  1. As I work through your old posts, there's a lot of great stuff. I particularly love this one.

    1. Oh wow! I forgot about this one myself. Thank you for bringing me back to it. I miss those meets.