Whenever I need a lift, to feel wonderful about the world, to inspire myself that maybe I have what it takes to accomplish something great, I think of a young woman who achieved something truly amazing.
Every time I think about it, I smile.
It starts 13 years ago when a baby girl was born. She had a heart defect, and while she was a fighter, she just couldn't overcome the 5mm hole that reduced good blood flow. Some said it would limit her life and make her more timid. At 2.5 months she had open heart surgery, becoming a part of the "zipper club" (any kid that had a scar from throat to belly button showing where the surgeons cut to mend her heart).
As she grew, her parents always wondered how it would physically…and emotionally…affect her. After all, it was not only a traumatic event, it was an obvious reminder of imperfection and that she wasn't able to "be normal" without help.
Would she become shy? Timid? Self-conscious?
Apparently, zipper club members do the opposite. They are grateful, never take life for granted, and they look for adventure.
It was that sense of adventure led our girl, our heroine, to gymnastics. Oh how she LOVED gymnastics. Her twin sister did, too. Over time, as they trained, it became clear the sister took to it a litter faster…got better scores…and eventually advanced to the next level above our heroine. To her parents surprise, she never really seemed to mind. She seemed grateful to have the chance to challenge herself and have fun.
Until her 3rd year. This new level was challenging. The tricks they had to perform were difficult and she was struggling. It was also starting to grate on her that while she was struggling with the new tricks, her sister seemed to breeze through them.
Now, at this level, her team had five competition meets to qualify for the finals. Her sister qualified at the 1st meet. Our heroine did not.
Nor at the second, nor third or fourth.
Nor fifth….missed qualifying by a mere TENTH of a point. 0.1 points!!!
It was one of the hardest things for our heroine to watch her sister compete at the finals while she sat in the bleachers. Even worse, she had 3 more meets in the season at the same level while her sister (and other teammates) advanced levels.
Her last meet of the season arrived, and this was her chance to show she could do it…
…but she didn't. She fell on nearly every event, including twice on beam, which she never did, and never even completed her bars routine, resulting in her lowest score of the season. She saluted, turned away from her coach, and cried.
She was so sad.
The next week, her coach approached her and her parents. "What are our options?" They asked. Coach suggested. "Well, we could give it the summer to see if something clicks…and if not, well…"
At that moment, anyone would have supported her decision to "move on" from the sport and try something else. After all, she had a mended heart, hit a plateau, and other perfectly fine reasons to wrap up her gymnastics career.
But she didn't.
Somewhere deep inside of her, maybe from the Gortex stitched to her mended heart, came a determination that forced a decision…
…a decision to qualify for next year's finals...to beat this struggle…no matter what.
Throughout the summer she pushed herself...left it all on the floor. Her parents stared in awe as she challenged her sister to the ropes. They would race up a 30 foot rope…without using their legs…and our heroine would win.
Her momentum was unstoppable.
That fall, meet season started. Her sister was competing at the next level so that left her to completely focus on her goal.
…and you know what?
She qualified. Her parents were so happy she achieved her goal.
…with a smirk, our heroine kept quiet. She wasn't done punching her struggle in the face.
She kept training…kept achieving.
She arrived at the state finals, and while her parents flashed back to her double fall last year, our heroine flashed a smile and a salute to the judges, and started her bars event.
She performed beautifully. Her score? 9.45!!! Her highest ever. She was "Bars Champion" for her session. And by the end of the weekend, with 280 of the best gymnasts in the state competing, our heroine was ranked 14th best gymnast on bars in the entire state.
Only one year earlier she didn't even complete the event.
As she took the 1st place podium, our heroine looked at her parents, her coach, her teammates, her sister…all beaming with pride. She instantly knew two things: First, that no matter what she encountered in her life, no matter how hard an obstacle or struggle looked, she could always remember this day, the 389 days of thankless dedication it took to get here, and know in her heart, her I'm-so-thankful-for-my-mended heart, that she could overcome anything.
And the second?
That she could inspire others that are struggling with one simple phrase…
"Let me tell you my story…
|I beat the odds
|I was graceful…and grateful
|I was focused
|I pushed myself to be my best
|I proved myself
|I defied gravity…and everything else that tried to push me down
…and so can you"