My daughters won 1st All-Around in their respective age groups/levels at their gym meet today. This was a first for each of them. I was a super proud, super thrilled, wake-my-baby-up-with-my-cheering mama at the Level 1 awards ceremony for Elisabeth, and again at the Level 2 awards ceremony for Catherine.
Elisabeth joined the competitive team in June of this year. She works hard in practice and sees results pretty quickly and easily. The tricks and skills and routines seem to come naturally for her. She competed for the first time last month and walked away with high 8’s and even a 9.15, and a third and first place. Today was her second meet and she cleaned house. She won every event but one, and even that one was a second with a score of 9.4. Only one score fell below a 9, and that was a crazy mistake that she never makes.
Catherine, on the other hand, is halfway through her third year of competing. From day one, that child has worked her tail off in the gym. But her successes and mastered skills come after hours of struggle, grit, tears, discouragement, and sheer determination. Her first year of competing, she never scored higher than the mid-8’s, with several 7’s, and placed in the bottom two or three, or last, in every event at every meet. Last year, she moved up a level and had all new routines to learn and several difficult new skills. She continued working and sweating and putting her all into it, and continued scoring 7’s and 8’s. She did have two sweet moments with a 9.0 in one meet and a first place 9.3 on vault at the last meet of the year, but even at that meet she placed last in the all-around.
I watched her with my mama heart all those two years, silently aching for her as she watched all the other girls stand on that podium while she stood off to the side. But she never verbalized her discouragement until that last meet. “Mama, why did I still get last all-around when I won first on vault?” And my heart broke a little. She had never expressed this disappointment before, always left the gyms excited and happy to have spent the day doing what she loved and getting pretty ribbons and medals to do it. It had never seemed to bother her to come in last until that day.
It’s hard for a mama to watch her child work and struggle at what she loves, and actually make a great amount of progress, and still come in last. Her coaches were coaching me too, last year, encouraging both of us to hang in there, keep working, and wait for it. Honestly, as a mom, I think I agonized more than she did because I wanted so badly for her to receive that reward and gratification for all her hard work, and I wanted to see that joy on her face. We helped her enjoy her personal victories as she did inch her scores up little by little, but I longed to see her receive a tangible acknowledgement of her efforts. Not because I want my kid to be the champion, although for the sake of true transparency, I have had to fight that competitive mama beast down at times when it threatens to rise up. But just because I wanted her to know the joy of success after such hard hard work.
Last month, at the first meet of this year, I went in that gym full of nervous anticipation. Over the summer she had come miles. She looked like a different gymnast than she had just in April. I knew this could be her meet. And it almost was. Except for a fall on bars and a big deduction on beam. She did place 2nd on floor and 3rd all-around, and we were super excited. My sweet girl was happy and proud with her personal bests, and I was very proud of her. But inside, my mama heart ached just a little. I knew she could have had it.
Then, today. Today, she went in the gym, and my little star began to shine. She nailed every routine, every event. No falls, no major deductions. She still scored two 8’s with her two 9’s, but in a tough age group in a tough level, it was enough to win 1st in three of the four events. After seeing her two 9’s, I knew she would place high in the all-around but I figured maybe another third because of the 8’s. But when I realized both of her 9’s got first and then one of those 8’s did too, my heart started beating hard. She knew it too–I could see it in her face. As they called name after name for all-around and still not hers, the tears came to my eyes. And then my sweet girl climbed up onto the top of that podium for that huge moment, and I thought my mama heart was going to burst. Her smile was lighting up the gym. There it was. The reward that was three years coming. She locked her eyes on mine with a grin that couldn’t be any bigger, and it was all worth it.
As in every part of life, gymnastics just comes more naturally for some. Elisabeth still has to work hard, but she was able to go in and hit the top of the podium in one event at her very first meet, and then win the whole thing at her second, with an all-around score that is over half a point better than Catherine’s best. But it has taken Catherine three years of working just as hard, if not harder, to do the same thing. Both victories were sweet. Both were celebrated mightily. But Catherine’s was a different kind of sweet, for having all those tears and struggles and disappointments and last place moments behind it.
And isn’t this true in all of life? Victory over a sin that has persisted for years will be much sweeter for having countless hard-fought battles behind it. A prayer that is finally answered after years of relentless pleading to the Lord is all the more precious for all the years of waiting. These moments may not come with a gold medal, but they are rewarded richly in Heaven.
Even today, as excited and overjoyed as both of my girls were, I still don’t think Catherine felt the impact of her moment as much as I did. I think it’s because I’ve seen this principle played out so many times in my own life–experiencing the sweet made sweeter by bitterness that preceded it–and all her child heart knew was that she finally stood on top, without the maturity to analyze it as I have done here.
They say that to become a mom is to watch your heart walk around outside your body. I think this is true, partly because we watch our kids through the grid of what life has taught us, like victory being sweeter after defeat. And today, I got to watch my heart win gold.