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A Lesson in Perseverance

Gymnastics Certificate

She had drunk very little all day, so we weren’t surprised when Emily said that her throat hurt a little later in the afternoon. After all, it was probably dry. We told her to drink more and began getting her ready to go. Emily had decided to participate in a mini-meet for gymnastics. While she has loved her gymnastics classes the past two years, she had never expressed interest in competing. Her coach kept holding out the hope that Emily would change her mind. Well, a partial change happened when Emily said she wanted to go to see what it was all about…and give it a shot! Her mom and I were certainly surprised but very proud of her. Emily had come a long way in these past few years, from a very shy individual when around those whom she did not know to someone coming out of that shell. We were excited for her, but, not too excited. We didn’t want to over-emphasize the event and cause her to change her mind. Little did we know that we were about go get a lesson in perseverance from our daughter.

So there we are at the mini-meet. I say mini-meet as there was no scoring or places, but otherwise similar to a meet and included individual feedback on what to improve, certificates, and ribbons. Emily continued to say her throat hurt, but otherwise she felt good. When the coaches called them all, off she went onto the mat! Her mom and I, and her two little sisters excited to watch her perform for the first time.

Emily started on floor and did a great job! She had been practicing at home all week to get all the moves right. Our living room sounded like a construction zone with all the round-offs we were hearing as she practiced! Next up was vault, her weakest event. We have seen Emily run towards the vault and slam into the mat. She had been getting better, but we had no idea what to expect. Her practice run was great! Then came her first run. Almost just as good, but after a handstand on the mat that seemed to last as long as that 3-hour tour did on Gilligan’s Island, she fell back towards the vault. The second was pretty good. Overall, we were very proud of her! Unfortunately, she twisted her ankle getting off the mat and seemed to hobble and walk on her heel for the remainder of the meet. It was obvious she was in pain. After starting off so well on floor and then doing pretty well on vault, we felt bad for her that she got hurt. She stayed in there, though.

She seemed to be sitting on the sideline all curled up watching the other vaults. It didn’t look like her. Then, after the bar routine, she almost seemed to be hugging herself. She was in obvious discomfort. Last up was the balance beam. Emily walked on a foot and heel from one end of the gym to the other to get from the bars to the beam station. She had to wait a significant amount of time for her turn. The longer she waited, the worse she looked…arms wrapped around her self, eyes droopy, unable to walk and bend a foot. When it was her turn to do her beam routine, I was certain it would not go well. If you could have seen her, I think you would have agreed. She mounted the beam and started her routine. I stood there, watching her face waiting to see a cringe of pain from her foot when she landed. She jumped on the beam. She hopped on the beam. She did a handstand on the beam. She continued through her routine and then she did a dismount. To my amazement (and my wife’s), she did not fall and did not show any sign of being injured while on the beam! She completed her routine. No, it wasn’t flawless. But she completed it without falling. Then, as if the switch flipped in her mind, she hopped back in line in obvious pain in her ankle. I was, and am, so proud of her.

Gymnastics Certificate - Perseverance

After the meet was over and all the athletes received their certificates, Emily made her way over to us. She was slow, very slow. She looked in pain, exhausted, and sick. She was shivering uncontrollably. When we asked her about it, she could barely talk and complained her throat hurt. We got her dressed and got set to leave. She told us that the severe pain and coldness kicked in halfway through her floor routine. At that point, I think I asked her to repeat that. Half way through her first event? My oldest daughter began to get the chills, have a stronger sore throat, go on to compete in one more station, then sprain her ankle and compete in two more stations including a strong beam routine? Did my little Emily actually do all of this? At this point, am I to feel badly as a parent that I didn’t come get her or proud of how she powered through it all? Well, I didn’t know the details during the event, so I can’t beat myself up too much. As far as I knew, she had a sore ankle.

On the ride home, she actually began to cry due to the pain and discomfort she was in. This is the same girl who was running around in the morning and went out to lunch with family. She was a completely different person now. If she’s crying, then something really hurts her. Needless to say, we went home and dropped her sisters off with me while my wife took her to the after-hours care at about 9 pm on a Saturday.

Within an hour, Emily spiked a 101.5 degree fever at the doctor’s office, moaning and groaning from the pain. Apparently, she also fell asleep and snored on the exam table. It turns out, she had strep throat. It may not be serious, but it came on strong and fast. My happy energetic girl of 1 p.m. that day was the complete opposite by 7 p.m. and practically incapacitated by 9 p.m. As I sat at home while she was at the doctor’s office, thinking about her and the day, several things struck me:

  1. I was amazed at how at 7 years old she demonstrated such perseverance and will power.
  2. I was amazed at how she could not walk but was able to compartmentalize the pain in her ankle in order to complete her beam routine.
  3. I was amazed that she did not come running over to us when she obviously felt so poorly.

This was the same little girl that I held at 9 months who coughed lethargically as I held her all day while she tried to fight her pneumonia. The was the same little girl who always dramatized her injuries. This was the same little girl who cried on her coach’s lap for the entire session the first time she tried gymnastics. She is still that same little girl, but is coming into her own.

Perhaps even just as surprising was that she said she enjoyed herself. Emily said that other than getting sick in the middle of the meet, she really enjoyed it. Again, I am amazed that she can see past how uncomfortable she was and see the highlights of her time there.

When I think about her and relate that experience to our work with students, several things strike me:

  1. How many of our students can see past the immediate bad and see the positive? The poor grade, the difficult project, the relationship/roommate, the critical feedback…they often take center-stage for our students. How can we work to help them still see the positive through the discomfort and pain?
  2. So often, when something negative happens, it can bog down our students, weigh heavily on them, and keep them from being able to focus on other things. How can we help them be more resilient? To accept difficulties and pick themselves back up time and again is an important skill. What ideas do you have to help them in that process?
  3. What are we doing to challenge our students to persevere? Sure, we don’t want to give them a challenge and then make them sick while expecting them to accomplish it. However, they will be faced with professional and personal challenges after college. Those challenges will not occur separate from each other; rather, they will be layered on top of each other and sometimes integrated. What are we doing to prepare students for layered challenges through which they will need to persevere?

I wish I could have put that night in a bottle somehow. The courage Emily showed, having seen her grow these past 7 years, was incredible. I learned a lot about and from my own daughter that evening, some of which I think could help us in our work with students. What do you think?


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