I worked almost 40 hours in the three days leading up to hosting the NCGA National Championships. In those three days I may have totaled about 10 hours of sleep. (Not by choice, but as a stress management technique I've adopted; Stay up all night FREAKING out about things I cannot control and load up on caffeine the next day- I'm in the market for a new technique). By Thursday morning I had reached extreme exhaustion, and extreme excitement as we entered our beautifully decorated basketball arena that would be the site of our epic championship.
The gym was perfect when I walked in that morning. Professional, clean... and purple. God, I love purple. That gym was ready for the Warhawks. Practice went fine that day, nothing outstanding, but nothing earth shattering either. The last practice before a meet is notoriously bad for my girls, and they managed to come out of that day relatively unscathed. - Good energy.
We headed to the hotel where the girls got ready for the Championship banquet. They were beautiful. They always are. But in a world where sweat and chalk and bloody hands and taped ankles are the norm, and pretty leotards and make up and hair ribbons only occur on occasion- it's nice to have nights like the banquet; when tough athletes can take a moment to feel like the beautiful women they are.
The night was awesome, with inspiring speeches (our friend Chellsie Memmel came by to share some wonderful words of wisdom), great music, and hilarious bingo games! - Shout out to Troy who is officially the BEST BINGO CALLER ON THE PLANET! The girls had a great time, and when it was time to call it a night, we all headed to one room to have our team meeting.
If I didn't already know it (though I'm pretty sure I did), that meeting did it for me. I had always believed in my girls. But that night, they were so enveloped in each other, so behind one another, and so undeniably together as one unit that there were no doubts in my mind about the next day. They had it. They wanted it. And it was theirs for the taking.
We hosted Nationals my sophomore year at Whitewater. It was, without a doubt, my greatest memory as a collegiate athlete. That beam routine right there >>> when I landed that dismount Jen picked me up off the ground. That was, with complete certainty, my proudest moment as a collegiate athlete.
Nostalgia aside, I felt pretty invincible when I walked into the gym that morning (and I'm just an assistant coach!). Stars hung from the ceiling, and balloons were being strung from the podium. It was like 'Warhawk Pride' threw up in there. BEAUTIFUL. Did I mention that I love purple??
Nationals is always a long couple of days, but the day flew by in a sort of, I'm living in this moment and don't want it to ever stop, way. Everyone was on their game and no one was going to rain on our
parade. I mean... the gym was PURPLE, please.
The National Anthem was sung, and like usual I took that moment to say my prayer that I have said before every meet since I've become a coach. It goes something like, "Dear God, Please be with my girls today. Please keep them safe, healthy and help them to enjoy every moment of today. Please help them to realize their blessings and watch over them as they compete to the best of their abilities. Please, please, be with them, and help them to believe in themselves as much as I believe in them now." And then a new prayer I've adopted this year: "Sweet Avery, please watch over the girls today. Help them to know that you are by their side, and keep your Warhawks safe. This is for you, Angel." --You see, as coach, when we get to the meet... my job is damn near done. I can offer inspiring words, or corrections about a skill, but in actuality, the work has already been done long before the gymnast salutes the judge. So I put my faith in my girls, and in my God, and in Avery... and pray that all of their hard work pays off in the end. That's all we can do right?
The meet went forward then, and the Hawks came out blazing. We were up first on floor, and one after another our girls nailed their routines. It was like they came out thinking this was the "UW-Whitewater Show" and no one else mattered. We were in first place after the first rotation; and we never once fell from that spot.
By the time we reached our final rotation, we were in the lead by almost 3.5 points. In a sport that is sometimes determined by .0025... I was in complete shock to see that lead. Nevertheless, we still had one event to do. Beam had been hot and cold all year... mostly cold, and we couldn't lose this now. We needed to stay hot. And we did. Sure there were a couple of mistakes, but those girls
are fighters... and they were NOT about to let someone steal their thunder. By the time our last girl landed her dismount I was already fighting back tears. I knew it. I didn't know if anyone else could beat us at that point. I didn't care. It wasn't about that. It was about my girls, knowing everything they had been through this year, and seeing them overcome it. In that moment, I knew I was proud... and that was all I cared about.
We won... in case you hadn't heard yet. ;-) The back to back NCGA Division III National Champions hail from Whitewater, WI. But I still had some work to do...so one of my seniors and I completely switched gears and went to meet our GymHawks.
Nearly 30 of our cute little gym bugs had worked extremely hard to prepare a routine to be performed in front of all the collegiate athletes and coaches, as well as the crowed of over 1200 people! They were a little nervous, but they were amazing!
My collegiate team had just won a National Championship, and I was watching the next generation of gymnasts fall in love with performing. I was living in a perfect moment. I remember sitting on the floor with the kids, as the college girls surrounded us (clapping and cheering the kids on), and I was thinking to myself, "Al, I don't think you've ever smiled this big." This is what it means to be happy. This is as good as it gets. I often say I have the best of both worlds. I get to share my love for the sport with kids who are just happy to learn a cartwheel, and share my passion for the sport with college athletes who live for gymnastics like I have for so many years. In that moment, I realized that I was 100% truly and blissfully happy.