Every coach knows you can’t stay emotionally separate from your kids. Every season they weasel their way into your heart leaving sweaty little footprints on your soul. You want the best for them, you get their best from them in any way you can and the trust that is built in a dangerous sport like gymnastics is unlike any other. That’s why retiring athletes are celebrated and missed so much, that bond which can be years in the making is a treasure. But there is a darker flipside to this coin.
Nikol and Kaitlyn were friends, friendly competitors and hard working gymnasts. The energy they brought to the gym was fun yet focused, both girls were learning quickly and mastering difficult skills. Nikol was in her last season, soon to retire, eager to get her floor and beam routines one last time when she broke her ankle just before Christmas. The timing was bad, knowing how long the recovery was and the dates of competition I knew in my heart she wouldn’t have time to get back in time to compete. Her season was effectively over, and with it her time as a competitive gymnast was done.
The rest of the group kept on working, Kaitlyn seemed to work even harder, mastering advanced skills that even brought attention from other coaches and athletes. She worked so hard it was an inspiration to me and as her coach I could not have been more proud. The night before the last competition of the year, Kaitlyn broke her ankle.
I was devastated. I’m sure looking back I was more frustrated and hurt than she was. What was worse (as if that seemed possible) it flashed through my mind that this may be the last time Kaitlyn would train as a competitive gymnast. A month or so later, she retired.
I was not prepared for any of this. 3 words I had abandoned as a child crossed my lips. This isn’t fair. But life isn’t fair. We shouldn’t expect it to be. I realized that I had been focused on the wrong thing. I was allowing their disappointing endings to spoil my memories.
Yes it sucked. No, it wasn’t the ending we had hoped for. But I came to realize that my immense emotional reaction to both these events was because I had done my job. I had given everything I had into my girls and seen incredible rewards. I understood the heartbreak was inevitable given the unfortunate circumstances. Yes it still bothers me, it is still fresh in my mind after all. But I think at least in the future, I will be better prepared for disappointment if it comes my way. In the end, although we went through 2 coaches and 7 athletes last season, I also gained an amazing coaching partner, a wonderful group of girls and a heart filled once again with the joy that is coaching the best individual sport in the world.
Don’t hate life for what it took from you. Honour the memory of what it gave you and be grateful for the opportunity of sharing that time with others.