FEATURE —Three weeks ago today, my oldest competed in the final gymnastic competition of his career at the USA Gymnastics Championships in St. Louis, Missouri.
He marched out in a line of leotard-clad athletes for the last time. He presented for the National Anthem for the last time. He saluted the panel of judges for the last time. He round-offed, whipped to double lay, whipped to back handspring and finished with a triple twisting double flip for the last time.
Over the last eight years, my boy has travelled the world, achieved some truly incredible highs, and suffered some tremendous and painful setbacks.
He has represented his country in Bulgaria, Spain, Russia and Japan. He has earned both silver and bronze medals abroad, national championships at various levels at home, and has been selected several times as a member of USAG’s Junior National Tumbling Team.
He has also shredded ligaments in his foot, broken bones he didn’t even know were broken until he was x-rayed for something else, sprained ankles, suffered acute and chronic inflammation in both sacroiliac joints and endured two years of crippling Sever’s disease.
He finished his career in St. Louis as a senior elite gymnast, 5th in the nation on Double Mini Trampoline and 9th in the nation in Power Tumbling.
He is not quite eighteen.
In another almost three weeks, this same young man will leave home in Utah for college in the Midwest. The nearest competitive gym is five hours away. Which is why this Nationals was his last.
Of course, he could have chosen a college closer to home and continued to train and compete. He was invited to the World Age Group Championships in Azerbaijan this November.
But there is a time and season for everything. He knew he couldn’t do gymnastics forever and chose now as his goodbye.
As his father and I have reflected on what the last eight years in this elite competitive world have meant for our son, we have we concluded that the whole gymnastics experience was never really about rankings and awards.
Even though his bedroom that is filled with hordes of medals and trophies might say differently, it was really all about the process of work and improvement, of testing himself and evolving.
It was about sticking it out to the end of those terrible practice sessions – and not just getting in his car and driving home – when he couldn’t seem to land anything.
It was about coming back to the stands after falling on his own pass to cheer on his teammate for his medal-winning one.
It was about flip after flip after flip into the foam pit until he got his double. Until he got his triple. Until he got his triple twisting double.
Another set of athletes—even more elite than my son – will compete later this week at the Olympics in Tokyo. I’ll be watching them. I’ll be cheering them. And yes, I’ll be tearing up when one of them tops the podium and the Star Spangled Banner begins.
But, knowing what I know and seeing what I’ve seen, I’m also going to be celebrating something else that each has achieved. And it has nothing to do with their final standings.
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