When It’s All Over, What Really Matters? 

smile because

As coaches, when kids who come through our gym doors we hope we will teach them great gymnastics and that we will also influence them positively and make a difference in their lives.  That is, in a nutshell, what our job entails.

Once in awhile, however, we get a kid who walks through the doors who teaches the teacher.  Once in awhile, we have the privilege of knowing an athlete who makes us want to be better coaches and just plain better humans.

I was lucky enough to encounter such an athlete in Samantha Shapiro.  Sami came to work out at JAG the summer between her senior year of high school and going to attend Stanford.  Recovering from injury while preparing herself to make transitions from elite to college gymnastics as well as high school to college, Sami approached getting herself prepared with a work ethic that was staggering and a dedication and love for the sport that was inspiring.  Because this was going to be a short term training environment for her, it would have been easy for Sami to just focus on her needs.  But, instead, she was a wonderful teammate and role model to the kids in the gym.

This worker bee with a kind heart and a smile that can light up a major city is a senior at Stanford and just completed her gymnastics career.  Sami shared a wonderful retrospective on her gymnastics career on her Facebook page.  With Sami’s permission, I want to share with you what this extraordinary young woman wrote:

“There is no way I can adequately express in words all of the emotion, passion, joy, trials, and triumphs I’ve experienced doing the sport I love for the last 18 years. Through a preschool class I fell into the sport at the age of 3 and immediately fell in love with it…which then led to the years of literally falling and learning how to keep getting back up, time and time again. Through the ups and downs, blood, sweat, and tears, and 7-hour training days 6-days per week, 18 years later I feel blessed to say that I still love the sport just as much as I did as that 3 year old enamored with my new gymnastics playground. Little did I know at the time, I was about to embark on an incredible, challenging, and rewarding journey that would take me around the world, last through my childhood, and end with a degree from Stanford University.

I’m grateful for whom the sport has brought into my life, from meeting people from all over the globe to connecting me with some of my dearest friends who will be in my life forever. From my teammates and coaches at All Olympia with whom I spent just about every waking hour of my childhood (shout-out to Mattie Larson and Hallie Mossett), to the girls I trained with during my 5 years on the National Team, to the amazing women who have been my teammates here at Stanford the past 4 years, I’ve been lucky enough to have trained with, learned from, and made memories with some of the best athletes, coaches, and friends in the world. But beyond the people gymnastics has brought into my life and the places it has taken me, the sport itself brought me such joy.

It was a messy yet beautifully perfect mix of pain and gains, hardship and bliss, stress and satisfaction, fear and triumph, which always kept me hungry and coming back for more. It was my passion, my addiction, my life. While it deeply saddens me that my time doing the sport has come to an end (I couldn’t hold back the tears walking into my last competition and bawled upon landing my final dismount), I have to keep in mind the meaningful quote, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”

Thank you to all of my coaches over the years, who have taught me a lot more than just gymnastics. Thank you to all of my teammates, who are way more than just people with whom I practiced and competed; we have developed friendships that will greatly transcend our time together on a gymnastics team.

But most importantly, thank you to my parents. Thank you for always being there for me, for supporting me through the injuries and surgeries, for being by my side to celebrate the good times with me, for pumping me up when I’d get burnt out, for taking me to and from the gym, doctors appointments, and physical therapists, for believing in me when I no longer believed in myself, and for being the first ones in the stands at every single competition my senior year. For all those things and so much more, I can’t begin to express how much I appreciate all you did for me and for your belief in me.

And finally, when I think back to my favorite moments in my gymnastics career, most of them are from training with my sister. That she chose to do the sport too made the sport so special and enjoyable for me. The time we were able to spend training and laughing and growing together are times I will cherish forever.

Gymnastics has probably been the most influential factor in shaping who I am today. Even when I hated gymnastics, I loved it. It has really been a wonderful journey – one that I am sad to see come to an end, but am overjoyed that happened. I will treasure the memories forever.”

It wasn’t the titles.  Oh and she has plenty: three time U.S. senior elite national champion, three-time U.S. junior national champion, ten JO state titles, and All-American titles galore. 

It was the people.

It was the experiences.

It was the passion for and love of the sport.

It was the memories.

It was the influence gymnastics had on her life. 

That’s what this champion reminded me in this beautiful post.  This is what we who are gymnastics professionals are doing: creating memories, fostering passion and influencing lives.  This is what we who are parents are supporting (as Sami’s parents did so beautifully): happy childhood memories, believing in our kids and supporting their dreams.  This is what we who are gymnasts are doing: creating lifelong friendships, enjoying our process and learning from our setbacks, falling in love with a passion and taking all these lessons to develop the person we mean to be.

Thank you, Sami. The gymnastics world will miss seeing you compete.   And I cannot promise that I won’t cry because it’s over (too late!) but I will always smile because it happened.