We were at a huge Optional Invitational meet and in the same rotation with one other team. We were starting the meet out on beam. Our three Level 8 girls were last in the rotation and were already warmed up. Five girls from the other team had already gone and scores were running about average.
The next girl stepped up, saluted the judges and prepared to start her mount. She was doing a running approach toward the end of the beam and had been warming up a step-on mount.
She started her run aggressively but on her last step and she accidentally stubbed her toe into the board. She tripped on the board and stumbled, falling hard and hit her face right on the end of the beam.
She got up off the board and apparently decided that she couldn’t repeat her mount and got immediately up on the beam to finish her routine. She was on the verge of tears and very shaky.
What followed was one of the worst series of falls and errors I have ever seen in a meet.
She went to step into her split leap and partially missed her footing. Her foot slipped off the beam and she straddled the beam and fell on her head again – not hard but enough to shake her up even more.
She fell on her back handspring series, a back tuck and her jump series and wobbled on every skill she didn’t fall on.
She fell on her full turn and got up facing the wrong way. You could see that blank lost look gymnasts get when they have completely forgotten where they are in a routine. Finally she figured it out, turned around and got her routine back on track.
By that time, the bell indicating that time had been called had rung and she was nowhere near done with her routine. She even fell one more time before her dismount, got back up and threw a cartwheel back dismount which was way short on the landing.
She gave a kind of half-hearted salute to the judges and started walked over head down to where her coach and teammates were. We were all sitting by the bleachers where mostly team parents from the other team were sitting to watch the beam routines
The only way the judges were going to give this routine a 3.0 was if they, like everyone else, couldn’t bear to watch the embarrassing display and missed some of the deductions.
In this time of coaches so concerned with how what their gymnasts do makes them look to other coaches, we were all sure that this girl was in for it now and was going to hear about it from her coach. She came walking over with that look in her eye that she knew what was coming.
We have all heard coaches scream at, be sarcastic to and to even refuse to acknowledge gymnasts who had done far less wrong than this girl. What was going to be the coach’s reaction?
She was already punishing herself you could see just from the look on her face. She was embarrassed, hurt, dejected and almost ready to cry. She walked up right in front of her coach and stood with her head hung down.
He took one look at her, put his arm around her and turned to the rest of his team and the parents sitting there.
Fortunately, we were sitting close enough to hear what he said to all of them quietly, “I am more proud of what just happened than any of you can possible imagine. While we have all seen better routines, we have all just seen the kind of courage and bravery that is the true essence and spirit of this sport. Jenny had many chances to quit during that routine, even to never even really start the routine at all. Instead, she demonstrated the qualities that we so admire and are trying to instill in our gymnasts – guts, determination and a resolve to never quit even in the face of tremendous difficulties. No matter what else happens at this meet, we can all consider this a victory to remember.”
You could tell which parents were Jenny’s by the way they sat up, proud now of their daughter that they saw in a new light. Her teammates crowded around her, hugging her and you could just feel the smile coming back onto her face.
One of my girls, with a lump in her throat, turned to the other girls and whispered, “I hope I can grow up to be a coach like that someday.”
“Funny,” I said to myself as I went over to set the board for our gymnasts, “That’s exactly what I was thinking.”