My Hero Gabby
As coaches and club owners (and even team parents), it’s easy to become attached to kids who are not our own children. In fact, despite having four children of my own, I constantly refer to JAG gymnasts as “one of my kids…” when talking to friends which is super confusing to others who don’t teach kids.
And every so often a kid comes through our club who we not only become attached to but who makes us, the adult, a better person.
Please indulge me as I pay tribute to my gymnast Gabby. She is my hero. Gabby just started her final competition season with us before she heads off to college…and to say that I am both proud and deeply sad that this exceptional young woman is embarking on her final season is an understatement.
I have known Gabby since she was 5 years old when she literally tumbled her way into my gymnastics club. Gabby was a little shy and very serious. She worked incredibly hard and was invited to our pre-team in the matter of a few lessons. We could all see how much she loved gymnastics but we all also noticed how Gabby always sought to make every child on the team feel included and important.
Steadily Gabby moved up through our team program. Her work ethic and positive attitude became a backbone of our program. Need a mat moved? Gabby’s on it! New kid trying out team today? Gabby will be her partner for conditioning without being asked. Someone afraid of their series? Gabby’s in the corner giving her a pep talk. A preschooler rings the bell for learning a cartwheel? Gabby stops her training to congratulate the tot. Coach leaves the gym and everyone is sad? Gabby is holding an informal pow-wow assuring everyone that all will be okay.
Probably my favorite Gabby story was this past fall during a team meeting to address some morale issues among the team. After several athletes vented all of the reasons why other teammates or coaches were problems, Gabby calmly turned to the group and said, “I’m glad we all got to vent. But what part of this is our responsibility? How can we make the atmosphere a more positive one?” This moment turned the meeting from a gripe session into a productive conversation that lead to a better training plan and a closer knit team.
Have things come easily to Gabby? Not a chance. When she was in elementary school is was discovered that she has a visual disorder that caused her early difficulties in reading and still make the process a slower one for her. She has significant food allergies that limit what she is able to eat and occasionally cause her to become quite ill. Her parents divorced. And a series of ankle injuries and a very significant concussion last year, set Gabby back from pursuing gymnastics at the collegiate level and reaching her ultimate goal of becoming a level 10 gymnast.
At any of these set backs, many girls would have given up the sport. And certainly once the hope of doing college gym and making it to level 10 were dashed, most would have simply focused their senior year of high school, especially given the demanding course load and top grades Gabby earns . But Gabby is not typical. Instead, Gabby chose to remain training 22 plus hours a week in order to finish what she started out of respect for her personal goals, her teammates and her coaches.
Last weekend was her first-last: the first meet of her final season. And Gabby went 4 for 4, coming in second in the AA and nabbing the gold on bars with this excellent routine. Wait for the ending because it just captures so perfectly Gabby’s enthusiasm.
Gabby’s dedication, work ethic and leadership earned her a four-year, full-tuition scholarship from the Posse Foundation to attend Kalamazoo College in Michigan next fall. While there she hopes to study pre-med, ultimately so she may attend medical school and become a doctor in the Peace Corps.
Did I mention she is my hero?
I was lucky enough to write Gabby’s college recommendation. And as I concluded that letter, I will conclude this blog post: All the kids are special—but this kid is beyond special.
Thank you, Gabby, for making our gym club, everyone in it, including the adults, and now everyone reading this blog post inspired to be better by your example. As I have told you before: I hope I grow up to be as cool as you are!