Death of a Gymnast

The day after Ginger's death, I walked into Coach's outer office. I could see him through the window with his head bowed crying. That stopped me cold. I had never seen him cry before. I had never seen him anything but totally under control before.

Ginger was a very well liked girl on the training team.  Coach was always trying to talk her into moving up. I don't think it was because of her talent, although she certainly could have been a good gymnast. She was petite and strong and flexible and had been best friends for years with the best girl on the team. Coach just liked her, the same way we all did, for her ability to be a great friend. He wanted that kind of person on his team, because that's the kind of person he was and that's what he wanted for his team.

When her father died very young from some disease, she stopped coming to the gym. I guess most of the friendships were one-way, from her to us, since no one on the team went out of their way to follow up. Oh, we all went to the funeral and told her we were sorry, but no one kept calling her when she started drifting away from the gym. We all had lots of other friends and never took steps to stay in touch or invite her along.

Like many girls who have lost a parent, problems began to appear.She and her brother got in some trouble. She experimented with drinking. Her choice of companions was sometimes questionable. But none of us thought anything about it or worried or went out of our way to see what was going on with her.

Sometimes it takes something terrible to teach us a lesson. Months later after her father died, I realized we all had made a mistake. The event that precipitated this understanding was Ginger's death. She and her brother and some friends had been out drinking over the weekend. She was riding in the back of her brother's pick-up on the way home when he lost control, ran off the road and crashed. Ginger was thrown from the truck into a drainage ditch and died from head injuries. Her brother was only slightly hurt, but didn't wake up from his drunken stupor for 18 hours.

On Monday, the gym was quiet. Everyone was in a daze about Ginger's death.Even though it had been almost two years since Ginger had stopped coming to the gym, many of us saw her every day at school and all of us now remembered what a great friend she had bee and how important her friendship had been to us. But after her father died, none of us had made any special effort to console her or to be a friend like she had always been to us. It was easy to say we just didn't know what to say to her, that we were really busy or that she had changed. Many of us knew she and her brother were drinking, but none of us had thought to try to intervene. We just figured it was her business.

Life provides us all with lessons. Some are harder to bear, because they are painful. Life can be short. There isn't always time to do things later. Friends are precious. Be aware of the effect of family tragedies and problems on your friends and be a friend. Don't wait, like we did, for a tragedy to teach you the consequences of your actions or inaction. Ginger, we will remember you always. I wish you were still here with us.

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