This will be my final blog entry.
I never thought I would have to write something like this.
This is the first time I will be moving and it’s not my choice. When I graduated from high school, I was excited to leave my hometown and experience life somewhere else. Granted, that life was only 2 hours away in Providence, Rhode Island, but still, I loved experiencing a big, bustling city, rife with colleges and universities and all the culture that accompanies them. When I graduated from college, though I was grateful for my four years in Providence (the city that will always hold a special place in my heart), I was ready to return home to New Hampshire. I was even ready to retire from gymnastics, after 16 years in the sport. Gymnastics had been everything to me. My life had, quite literally, revolved around it (spoiler alert: it still does). But at 22 years old, having achieved everything I wanted in the sport, I knew it was time. And while I can remember getting home late at night from my last ever collegiate meet, sitting on my bed in the darkness, and shedding a few bittersweet tears because it was over, I had chosen to accept that I had reached the end, and I was ready to move on.
This time, I’m not ready. This is not my choice. But it’s something I have to do and a lesson I have to learn.
I tried to pretend like it wasn’t real. I thought if I pushed it down far enough, willed it with all my might, it would go away, and for the past 5 months, I’ve been enabled by a sense of normalcy. When I found out I had to move, life still carried on. I went to the gym every day. I went to meets. My gymnasts had no idea. Life still felt “normal”. On the outside anyway.
Then I told all my kids, and while it broke my heart to break theirs, I felt relieved to get out in the open a secret that had been poisoning me from the inside for two months. I was afraid they would be angry at me. I was afraid they would say, “how could you?” I was afraid they would feel like I was abandoning them. I underestimated their capacity for understanding, because they did none of those things. They were upset, but supportive, and inquisitive. Kids are great like that. I talked about it openly and honestly, but things still felt “normal.”
When my husband had to report for duty in June, and we moved out of our apartment, one pillar of the life I had known for 5 years crumbled. I moved in with my amazing, loving, kind, grandmother and soon settled into the “new normal.” I still went to work every day and despite being without Ryan for the summer and adding 10 minutes onto my daily commute, part of me could still pretend that I wasn’t leaving. The sense of normalcy continued. It was summer at the gym, as usual.
I can’t pretend anymore. I can’t prolong the inevitable. How can I express what the last five years have meant to me? There are not enough words in the English language that could ever do justice to the love and gratitude I have in my heart, but I’m willing to try.
I graduated from college with a degree in English. Most people ask me if I want to be an English teacher. I don’t, really. To be quite honest, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, so I picked a major I was good at and that I enjoyed. After leading the crusade to save my college gymnastics team from elimination (and winning), I had a taste of fighting injustices, righting wrongs, and giving voices to the voiceless, and I thought I might like to be a lawyer, like Elle Woods from Legally Blonde. I took one law class as a senior and decided law school wasn’t worth the price. Alas, I was not meant to be the next Elle Woods. There was one thing I was sure of, and had been sure of most of my life. I loved gymnastics. And so I found myself at Spectrum Gymnastics Academy looking for a job.
If I’m going to be truthful here and bare my soul, I had no idea I would love coaching as much as I do. I knew I wasn’t ready to completely walk away from what I loved, but I didn’t realize that I would find a deeper, different, even more profound appreciation for the sport than what I had as a gymnast.
As a gymnastics coach, I know that my job extended much further than teaching kids how to do flips. I know that coaches play a tremendous role in the lives of kids and help shape them into the people they will grow to be. I have been a psychologist, a nurse, a “big sister” figure, a role model, someone to vent to, a shoulder to cry on, the voice of reason, and even an emotional punching bag. I have tried to be a positive role model. I have tried to teach them lessons that will extend far beyond when they are physically capable of doing back flips (and some lessons are harder than others). I have tried to teach them how to be strong, capable, confident women. I have tried to encourage who they are as human beings. I have tried to apply the lessons and values of gymnastics to real life. I know that I, as a coach in such an emotional sport, have a major effect on their lives. My only goal is that it was a positive one.
I know for sure that they have had a positive effect on me. They have enriched my life more than they could ever know, and I am grateful to have created so many strong bonds.
I think I have many thank yous in order.
First, to the parents. You have trusted your precious babies, heart and mind, body and soul, with me. You have lent your support, love, and gratitude. You have allowed me to be an extended part of your families. Thank you for believing in me and for believing in us.
Second, to the co-workers who are more like family. I am so grateful to work with so many genuine, hardworking people with huge hearts and tremendous passion for gymnastics; people who give their all every day and take pride in what they do; people who would do anything for the gym. We are all very different but somehow our differences collectively make up a well-balanced, well-oiled machine. It is so rare to have a group of people who work so cohesively together, but I truly believe that we have been an amazing team.
I see you more than I see my own family. I see you more than I have seen my own husband. You have loved and accepted me for who I am, neuroses, idiosyncrasies, and all. You have seen me at my best and at some of my worst. I have never met a group of people who have my back the way you do. You truly are like family to me. I am so proud of what we have been able to accomplish together, and proud to be able to call you my friends. Your friendship and companionship has made the last five years of my life joyful, and the memories we made together, both in and out of the gym, are some that I will cherish forever. You are my people. I so hope that our paths will all cross again someday. I love you all more than you could ever believe, and I don’t know what I’m going to do without you. I fear I will never again find friends like you.
Third, to my gymnasts. I want you to know that I’m not a public crier. The only times you saw me cry was because I was laughing so hard at something funny you said or did, until recently. I don’t typically cry in front of people. I prefer to cry in solitude, in the comfort of my own car on my lengthy commutes to and from the gym, or in my own room where no one can see me. Know that I have cried at least once a week, as often as once (or more) a day, since the day I found out I would have to leave you, and I will continue to do so for a long time. There are few moments in the 27 years of my life where I felt such profound heartbreak as that which I feel to leave Spectrum.
Many of you have already reached out to me in your own special way, and described, in your own words, what I have meant to you as a coach, but I believe it is I who is the lucky one. You have given my life purpose and meaning. You have allowed me to be an integral part of your lives when it is most important. You have helped me realize more about myself than I had ever thought. In the five years I have been at the gym, I have had the pleasure and good fortune of watching you grow taller than me, see some of you get your driver’s licenses, even graduate from high school. Most of all, I have watched you find yourselves and seen you grow and mature into smart, poised, confident young ladies. I have seen your struggles, your tears, your fears, and your frustrations, but I have also seen you fight to overcome those struggles, wipe away the tears, conquer your fears, and push through your frustrations to achieve your goals. I’m telling you, there is no more satisfying feeling as a coach than to see an athlete accomplish something they have been working for. I have experienced many of those moments over the years. I am so proud of what we were able to accomplish together.
Know that even though I may not be in the gym physically, you will probably still feel my presence there (and don’t think anything will go on in that gym without me knowing about it!). When you are scared, I will be there. When you are frustrated, I will be there. When you shine, I will be there. Think of me (what would Sarah do?), and I will be there. I will be your #1 fan and your biggest cheerleader. No matter what, I will be there for you. Remember that. You may not be able to conjure me up with a belch and three clicks of red high heels, but good news, I have a cell phone and they have the internet in New Jersey.
If there’s anything I can leave you all with, it’s the following advice:
And now, this is where I leave you. Are you crying yet?
One of the most primal quests of human existence is to feel loved and accepted. I have found that at Spectrum.
Thank you for everything. I love you.
Peace, love, and gymnastics, now, and always,
About the Author
Coach Sarah is a former Rhode Island College gymnast, NCGA National qualifier, All-American, current gymnastics coach and judge, and contributor for the gymnastics news source, The Gymternet. Find out what's going on at Spectrum and learn more about the incredible sport of gymnastics!
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