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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Dress to Impress YOU!

This article was originally posted on I AM THAT GIRL's website! 

 Recently, one of my young gymnasts informed me that she had BIG plans for after practice. In fact, she really didn't want to be at practice. She had already straightened her hair, applied her make up, and set out her outfit for the evening.
I very jokingly asked, “Let me guess: high-waisted shorts and a crop top?” I was half right. She was wearing a crop top with leggings and a very cute flannel shirt to be tied around her waist.
That's very IN right now.
I giggled and wondered which boys were going to be there, because, obviously she was excited to be all dolled up for the evening. She filled me in on the new friends she had made and her excitement to begin high school in a few weeks. And as she began to complain again, about getting her hair all sweaty and developing a “ponytail bump,” I could feel a slightly teachable moment approaching. So, in all of my Yoda-like wisdom I said, “You know, those boys are going to like you whether your hair is up or down. You shouldn't be afraid to sweat at practice because if they don't like you with your hair in a ponytail, they aren't going to like you with your hair down either. And those, my dear, are the boys who are absolutely NOT WORTH IT.”
She laughed a sort of, “I know you're right but I still want to look cute,” chuckle, and then proceeded to tell me she wasn't dressing to impress the boys. She was dressing to impress the other girls.
My jaw dropped.
The raw honesty completely set me back. She was absolutely right, and I do it too. I can remember trying on 8 million different outfits for various events in college. At one point, I had four roommates and four opinions for every evening out. 75% of the time, I wasn't even wearing my own clothes because someone else in my house had something more fashionable to offer. And as I've never been overly aggressive when it comes to hitting on guys, I still found myself obsessing over my wardrobe, my hair and my make up. Why? Because it was really the girls I was trying to impress.
Perhaps, as I’ve gotten older, I've forgotten these things. But ladies, we CANNOT focus on impressing everyone else. We CANNOT spend our precious time stressing out about what clothes we are going to wear, if our hair is perfectly straight, or if our handbag is going to accent our outfit well enough. Our minds are FAR too important to be wasted on wondering if everyone else is satisfied with our appearance. 
you-are-beautiful-no-matter-what-they-say1.jpg
Photo Courtesy of iamthatgirl.com
Instead, we should get dressed in the morning and be confident in our appearance, even if it is a t-shirt and yoga pants (my gymnastics coaching wardrobe of choice). Instead of spending an hour in front of the mirror making sure our hair and make up are perfect, we should take a few minutes to watch the news and get informed with what is going on in the world, call a friend, or meditate.
I'm not saying we should all fly off the handle and stop showering and taking care of ourselves at all. But your best accessory is your attitude whether you’re in a prom dress or medical scrubs! So wear it well and make sure it rubs off on someone else! You are your harshest critic, so cut yourself a little slack and show yourself some love.
I love the song “Try” by Colbie Caillat because it is true and incredibly beautiful. It has an amazing message about not surrendering to the media's portrayal of what is beautiful. Being you and appreciating yourself is the most perfect expression of beauty. So ladies, let's stop trying so hard to be someone else, and just be ourselves. “Don’t you like you? Cause I like you!”

Love True,
Allison

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

You are not defined by your struggles

"Don't let your struggle become your identity."

This quote was posted on the I AM THAT GIRL Facebook page a few days ago. I clicked the "like" button, as I'm pretty quick to do that on the IATG page, and carried on with my day. That evening, I looked back (because I'm on that page more than any other), and the words hit me a whole lot harder.

You see, I spent a significant portion of my day picking out an outfit, curling my hair and worrying about my make up choices because today was picture day for the gymnastics team.

I found myself double and triple checking the mirror, snap chatting friends to see if various things looked okay, and I was stressed out.

What the hell for?

When I think back on the years (yes years) that I spent where I COULD NOT emotionally control the stress levels reached on days like this I get sad. I'm at a place in my life right now where I can CHOOSE to ignore those doubts, I can CHOOSE to see beauty in myself in a hoodie and messy bun, and I don't need to spend hours looking in the mirror.

"Don't let your struggle become your identity"

It took me a long time to decide that I was worth more than my eating disorder had allowed me to be. It had been my identity. I hid behind it, used it as an excuse and allowed it to consume every bit of myself.

It destroyed everything. It was like an abusive boyfriend. "He" decided when I ate (which was not often), what I ate (which was usually very little), where I went (almost always by myself), how much I worked out (which was usually a ton) and when I went to bed (usually very early).

It took until I could place the eating disorder in the above mentality for me to understand exactly what kind of abusive relationship I had been in. If it had been a friend with an abusive partner controlling her life, I would have been ALL OVER IT- but because it took me about four years to understand the situation, I spent all of those years drowning in overwhelming feelings of self-doubt and confusing depression. And that, my friends, is a very lonely way to live.

It saddens me now, when I hear of individuals struggling with the same condition. It breaks my heart, actually. I don't know if my illness could have been prevented, but I do know that seeing the messages posted by I AM THAT GIRL inspires every day. As healthy as I am today, there is still that little part of my heart that is unhealed by this disease. That little piece of me that needs constant care and consistent reminders that I am more than enough, just the way I am.

"Don't let your struggle become your identity"

I decided, quite a while ago, that I was done letting my disease define my life. And since then, I've felt unchained and liberated. I've found a courage and a trust in myself that I never knew existed, and I pray that with groups like I AM THAT GIRL, every woman who has these struggles will know support. That they will heal quickly and wholly. And that they will spread these encouraging messages with everyone they know!

PLEASE check out I AM THAT GIRL  see what they are doing, how they are inspiring, and check out the articles I've been writing for them :)

Love True,
Allison

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Dear Avery

Dear Avery,

Hi Sweetheart! How are you? I've realized that in all of the time I've been writing about you, I've never written TO you, and that just simply needed to change.

I miss you, baby girl. Far more than you could possibly imagine. I am struggling with the knowledge that you've been away for two years now, because it just doesn't seem possible. I feel like it was yesterday that you were telling me about your new iPod. Remember that?

Do you remember sitting with me and Siri at camp that first summer? There was a storm coming in and I think we called your Mom together. Do you remember how many cartwheels you did that week, trying to nail them on the beam?

I do.

It was thousands.

Our Team Picture at Camp 2012
I think I was more exhausted, watching you do it over and over and over, than you were actually doing it. As a matter of fact, I know I was.

Back then, I had no idea what kind of plan God had for us. If I'm being honest, I thought you were one of those kids that I would meet at camp and never see again. Even so, I remember being blown away by how driven you were. Your work ethic blew my mind.

I was fairly certain that you would be one of those little girls I remembered off and on, a faded memory that blurred together with all of the summer camps combined over the years. "Remember that little girl who did a million cartwheels that one summer?" I'd think to myself.

Nope.

That fall I started the GymHawks program. And there you were. You were so scrawny, arms and legs for days… I thought I might break you, on more than one occasion. But you were there, and we started to get to know each other.

You had a big sister, who by the way you talked about her, you loved more than life itself. You had a little brother, who was apparently crazy, (I have a little brother too… so I get it). You had a mom, who obviously rocked at life because she named her kids 3 wicked cool names and I remember being so jealous of how original three of you were.

We talked about everything, remember? We talked about the girls on the Whitewater team. We talked about you joining the swim team. You taught me about clogging… and I wish with everything in my heart that I could have seen you dance just once.

We talked about your family and my family and about how you might have Celiac's Disease. Then we talked about how you did have Celiac's Disease… but you weren't scared at all. Probably because of your unwavering faith in God's plan.
The Warhawks & GymHawks missing you on
October 24, 2014

The year flew by and camp came again. We took a "Team Picture"- and though you weren't yet on our competitive team, you were a part of that family. Your heart, your spirit, we all knew it… you'd be on the team some day. I remember that fall, almost 2 years ago exactly, I was making a list of who I would move up to team that summer. Your name, my dear, was most definitely on that list.

But a few days later, I would look at that list and fall apart. I knew I should take your name off, but my hands were completely incapable of pressing the "delete" button. You were on that team. Done.

Sending my love straight up to Heaven!
The past two years have taught me more than I could ever list on this blog. I think if I sat here and committed to tracking the ways that you have impacted my life, I'd be here until I was sixty. (I'm 28 now, you know…)

For example, when you started GymHawks with me, you were one of about 20 kids. It's been three whole years, and last Wednesday I counted nearly 60 kids in the gym… just on WEDNESDAY! I almost cried because I knew that I couldn't have done it without you; You, and all of the beautiful little ones who remind me of you, every single day.

You've taught me to have faith when it seemed like there was absolutely zero faith left to have. I found it. You've taught me to be brave in speaking about that faith, and to trust that just being me is exactly what He wants… and that is all that really matters.

You've taught me that life is so incredibly precious, and that every single child is a gift… every moment on this Earth is a treasure, and even when life gets hard, there are still going to be moments in every day to appreciate.

"I lift my eyes to the hills…"  because I know that's where
you'll be. 
I don't know where I'd be if I hadn't met you, Honey. I just don't know. It scares me to think about it, actually. You have been this incredible light in my life, and the lives of countless others. With each passing day, I think about you. With each passing day, my faith grows. So as the years add up, and the number of days until I see you again gets smaller, I promise to continue in your footsteps. I promise to spend my life being a light for others. Exactly the way you were for me.

I hope you liked our balloons last week. Your teammates miss you terribly, and your big sisters want you to know they love you. We're going to keep on sending them you way, God Girl. So you can look for 14 balloons next year :) And I promise, I'll keep coming to visit every chance I can. I love watching the sun set with you, just in time to see the sky turn pink.

I love you, Sweet Girl.

-Al



Sunday, October 5, 2014

Birthdays in Heaven

Learning the cartwheel :)
Today was Avery's birthday. She turned 13. Tomorrow is my birthday. I'm turning 28.

We bonded two years in a row over the fact that we were almost birthday twins. Not quite birthday twins… but it was pretty cool that our birthdays were so close together.

I think it was her tenth birthday that she got a perm. OH MY GOSH was she SOOOO excited to get her hair permed. We talked about her hair for weeks, and she typically refused to tie her wild curls back in a ponytail. I didn't care. Avery was so cool like that. She was her own person… and I LOVED that about her.

I know I've written over and over about how absolutely amazing she was. How she loved with a full heart. How she worked her tiny little tail off to improve at gymnastics. How she would help ANYONE with ANYTHING. How she'd blissfully talk about her celiac's disease and what she couldn't eat, and it sucked, but her mom can't eat it either, so it's not so bad.

I can hear her plain as day. That laugh. Oh, that infectious laugh.

And I can hear her sister's voice, sweet and steady and so full of love; and her baby brother's voice who still talks about his angel sister any chance he gets.

And then, there's Bridget. Avery's faith driven mama, who displays more grace than any human being on the planet. The woman who prays for everyone else before herself, and who confirms without a doubt where our God Girl got all of her most inspired qualities.

My heart broke as I was able to enjoy a wonderful "birthday dinner" with my beautiful family tonight, and I know another family should be doing the same. So I left my birthday dinner tonight, kissed my amazing Mom, hugged my incredible Dad and supportive siblings and drove.

I drove straight to Avery.

Because she is such an incredible soul, I know there were hundreds of people celebrating her life today… and who will continue to celebrate it for the next 19 days. Why? Because Avery died on October 24th, so to celebrate her life we (myself and anyone who will join me) will do one random act of kindness every day from October 5th- October 24th. 19 days of selfless acts, and giving to others. Exactly how this faith fueled eleven year-old lived her life.

So today, I hugged my family, thanked them for everything, and then I went straight to the real birthday girl so that she could hear a "Happy Birthday" in person.

"There's a feather in my hair and a wing around my neck,
I'm ready to fly away." - Jamie Grace
I've learned a lot since Avery went to be with Jesus. One of those things was how to really talk to God. I've always prayed, but it was more of a laundry list of things to ask God for. I now know how to have a true conversation of praise and thanks, and I have Avery to thank for that. It was a peaceful and beautiful evening, and we had a lovely chat. Sitting there, praying, overlooking the lake as the sun began to set, I could feel her. Maybe it was the sweet wind chime blowing in the breeze, but something tells me that she had a pretty fantastic birthday party up in heaven. And I'm guessing, that she's going to continue celebrating all of the random acts of kindness that occur in her name over the next 19 days.

Happy 13th Birthday, Sweetheart.

More Info on "The 19 Days"

Love True,
Allison

Monday, September 1, 2014

Try

Posted on IATG website on 10/16/14

Recently, one of my young gymnasts informed me that she had BIG plans for after practice. In fact, she really didn't want to be at practice. She had already straightened her hair, applied her make up and set out her outfit for the evening.

I said, "Let me guess… high waisted shorts and a crop top?" I was half right. She was wearing a crop top, with leggings and a very cute flannel shirt to be tied around her waist.

That's very IN right now.

I giggled and then asked which boys were going to be there, because, obviously she was excited to be all dolled up and going out with friends. She filled me in on the new friends she had made and her excitement to begin high school in a few weeks. And as she began to complain again about getting her hair all sweaty and developing a "ponytail bump," I could feel a slightly teachable moment approaching.  So, in all of my Yoda-like wisdom I said, "You know, those boys are going to like you whether your hair is up or down. You shouldn't be afraid to sweat at practice… because if they don't like you with your hair in a ponytail, they aren't going to like you with it down either. And those are the boys who are absolutely NOT WORTH IT.

She laughed a sort of, "I know you're right but I still want to look cute," chuckle and then proceeded to tell me she wasn't dressing to impress the boys. She was dressing to impress the other girls.

My jaw dropped.

The raw honesty completely set me back. She was right. I do it too. I can remember trying on 8 million different things for events, parties, gatherings, etc. in college. At one point, I had four roommates, and four opinions for every evening out. 75% of the time, I wasn't even wearing my own clothes because someone else in my house had something cuter to offer. And as I've never been overly aggressive when it comes to hitting on guys (let's face it… I'm a pretty solid wallflower), I still found myself obsessing over my wardrobe, my hair and my make up. Why? Because the girls were going to judge me.

A recent, "no make up, messy bun,
I'm going for a run" selfie. #noshame
Perhaps in my new life, I've forgotten a lot of these things. You see, I've been so focused on appreciating myself these days that I've let go of some of these self-harming tendencies. Ladies, we CANNOT focus on impressing everyone else. We CANNOT spend our precious time stressing out about what clothes we are going to wear, if our hair is perfectly straight or if our handbag is going to accent our outfit well enough. Our minds are FAR too important to be wasted on wondering if everyone else is satisfied with our appearance.

Instead, we should get dressed in the morning and be confident in our choice- even if it is a t-shirt and yoga pants (my wardrobe of choice most days). Instead of spending an hour in front of the mirror making sure our hair and make up are perfect, we should take a few minutes to watch the news, get informed with what is going on in the world, call a friend or read a bible verse.

I'm not saying we should all fly off the handle and stop showering and taking care of ourselves at all. But your best accessory is your attitude. So wear it well and make sure it rubs off on someone else!

I love the song "Try ," by Colbie Caillat because it is SO true and so beautiful. It has an amazing message about not surrendering to the media's portrayal of what is beautiful. Being yourself is the most perfect expression of beauty. So, ladies… let's stop trying so hard to be someone else. And just be ourselves. There's no effort involved in being yourself, you don't even have to try.

Love True,
Allison


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Chasing Dreams

I AM THAT GIRL is full of amazing wisdom from incredible
women of different generations!
I've had some pretty big dreams in my life. Go to the Olympics and become a famous actress are two from my childhood.  Those dreams, as lofty as they were, are still hard to let go of, even as I am nearly 28 years old. You see, no gymnast ever settles for the idea that she will never learn another skill. Until, perhaps, they are 28 years old and foam pits are the only landing surface that seem remotely safe. And I can honestly say, the feeling I get while watching an amazing piece of film or one of my favorite actresses in an inspiring scene, keeps the acting flame burning deep in my soul.

And there have been many other dreams along the way.
Life is a long journey, and if our dreams weren't currently being updated up in those big beautiful heads of ours… I'd still be day dreaming about Rio 2016…

I know what you're all thinking. HA!

One of my biggest dreams that I've been developing over the past few years might seem so simple, and yet, I can't put a specific goal or deadline on it. You see, I want to make a difference.

My day to day inspiration and motivation to continue
inspiring others… my GymHawks!
Again, let me state that I have no idea what all this dream entails. I don't know where pursuing this desire will take me, and I don't know if it will ever be something I can fully achieve.  I can tell you, however, I am taking small steps toward accomplishing that goal and whatever it means for me and those around me.

If you've been following my blog over the past six months, you know I've fallen in love with a non-profit organization called, I AM THAT GIRL. It is a group who's mission is to inspire girls of all ages to be themselves, to embrace their inner beauty and to follow all of their ambitions in life. Being THAT GIRL means something different to each person, and figuring out what makes you THAT GIRL is what this group is all about! They have an amazing website on which contributors are constantly posting uplifting and inspiring articles about almost everything. The topics that are discussed are generational and completely relevant to all women. I LOVE THIS GROUP!

Anyone looking for a motivational read, whether you're 12
or 82, I highly recommend this book! (I wish I'd have read
it at age 12!)
Well, folks, I will soon be contributing to I AM THAT GIRL on a regular basis. That's right, yours truly will be submitting articles as a guest blogger once a month! I am so elated to be a part of this incredible organization and to contribute to this truly inspiring mission! As women, we need to stick together and work hard to inspire one another and encourage positivity and collaboration.

So, I won't exactly be saving the world, but in my own small way, I'm contributing to a greater cause. And that, my friends, is a dream come true for me.

What is something you dream of doing? Take one step, even if it is just a tip toe, in the direction of your dreams. You won't regret it!

Love True,
Allison



Please check out I AM THAT GIRL on their website, or on Facebook!!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Shake it Off

 Taylor Swift is brilliant. Period. And her new song, along with its epic music video, has completely sealed her spot on the top of my “cool list.” You see, unlike most twenty somethings, Taylor has uncovered a piece of wisdom that most people don’t discover until late adulthood. It’s something so simple, and so essential to our happiness; I sometimes wonder why more people don’t advocate for it.
This is how we LOVE life! No shame, baby!

Shake it off.

Admittedly, sometimes shaking it off isn’t as simple as it sounds. Sometimes our feelings are hurt, someone lets us down or life catches up to us at an inopportune moment. When those things happen, our first thought is rarely, “Wow, that was a shame, I guess I’ll get over it now.” Typically, as humans, and albeit, women, we get emotional in situations like this. Why? Because it’s a natural reaction to stress. Our initial response to stress is a reflex, and almost always something we cannot control.

For example, a small child who falls off of her bike may cry instantaneously! The tears are instigated by fear, the impulse reaction to what happened. However, if she sits there for a moment and realizes that she isn’t actually injured or in any danger, she’ll calm down.

You see, we can’t control our immediate response to what happens to us. Whether the emotion is fear, despair, joy, dread, sadness, excitement, etc. That first initial shock happens with or without our consent.  What we can control is the next thing that happens. How we react to certain situations is completely in our control. Hopefully you will have more joys and excitements than fear or anger.  However, when those situations present themselves to you, and your initial shock has worn off, do your best to make like Taylor Swift, and “Shake it Off.” I promise, doing this will save you energy, heartache and pain. 


And when it get’s difficult to shake it off, go ahead and dance along to Taylor’s music video… that is sure to help get anyone out of a funk. Life is way to great to waste it holding on to bad mojo!



Love True,
Allison

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Love

The first time I held my God Daughter,
Quinn. #indescribableLove
Over the summer I have had several weddings, graduation parties, anniversary parties and family get togethers where I've spent time and reconnected with several different types of people.  Whether they were high school friends, friends of my parents, family members or friends of the family, new friends and old friends alike… everyone wants to know one thing…

"Are you seeing anyone." Cue sympathetic head nod and pat on the shoulder when I very confidently respond, "Nope!"

Now, I am going to do my best to refrain from hopping up on a soap box and ranting about why it's nobody's damn business why I'm single, and it would be easy to shake it off (even though it happens ALL THE FREAKING TIME) if it weren't for the condescending head nods.  Why on Earth does the fact that I am single, and happy, by the way, warrant a gesture you would give someone who's dog just died?
30 years of marriage selfie.
#superLove

---end rant---

Coaching my favorite collegiate girls.
#ultraLove
I do see the sweet side of these comments.  I know that in asking, people are typically only wishing me well and hoping for happiness.  And despite my tactless rant above… I do appreciate that people care.  A lot.  I am a very lucky girl, and though I am single, and happy, I do want all of those people to know that I haven't given up on love.

I see it every day.  I have two amazing parents who celebrated their 30th anniversary this summer.  I have friends who have taken vows and shared love to create beautiful children.


These faces… and their #trueLove
I also, experience love every day in the amazing souls I get to work with in the gym.  Gymnastics… my first love.

I know that none of these examples pair me with the man of my dreams and tell my happily ever after story.  However, I know that's coming.  It may be soon, and it may be years away (let's all keep praying for sooner rather than later), but it'll happen when it's supposed to.

So thank you, to those who care enough to ask… and forgive the snarky remarks from this sarcastic writer.  Yes, I am currently flying solo.  No, I don't hate you for making it awkward.  And yes, I still believe in love.

And this song will prove it.

Jana Kramer- "Love"

Thanks Jana, for your sweet and inspiring song.

Love True,

Allison

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Girlfriends

Our epic weekend in the city.
It is amazing what you can learn from watching friends interact with each other.  I spent three days with four of my closest friends in one of the greatest cites in the world.  We ate (A TON) we drank wine (in GIGANTIC quantities) and spent a wonderful day at the beach.  But the sun, the wine and the food were not the therapy here… it was the conversation, the comfort and the sheer joy of being in each other's company. There's just something about girlfriends… you may not even know you need it, but there's a healing power in spending time with your best friends.

I'm lucky, because I have two pretty amazing groups of friends.  I have my high school "soul mates" as I call them… and my college "sisters."  Both groups of friends are incredibly dear to my heart, and I'm not sure I could survive without them. 

Blessings, each and every one of them.

In knowing I have all of these amazing people in my life, it's can be hard not to be jealous at times.  Especially, when talking with friends who are in different stages in their life than you, perspective can always fall from view.

Someone always makes WAY more money than the rest of us, someone had the most GLAMOUROUS wedding, someone has a BEAUTIFUL baby, someone's job makes them INCREDIBLY happy, someone is taking the BEST vacation, someone has the most GORGEOUS engagement ring...

Those things… I like to call the "Facebook worthy material," while all are amazing things to have, don't all typically happen to one person (if you have them all… I want to know your story).  

Instead, when you get past the Facebook notifications, and are able to spend time with the people you love, you can learn some pretty amazing things.


The wine was good, the laughter abundant and the love
between friends… stronger than ever.
For instance, we are all still the person we were in High School (to a certain extent).  One of my favorite parts of spending time together is reconnecting with these old versions of ourselves.  The versions we may have left behind when we went to college and have since dwindled away a bit.   Spending time with my high school friends reminds me of the girl I was 10 years ago.

But, as amazing as it is to revisit the past, my favorite part of reconnecting with these ladies is getting to know the people they are NOW.  How they've grown, how they've changed… and how their past has shaped them into these amazingly strong and beautiful individuals.

If this is what womanhood is all about, then I am content.

I had the opportunity to hang out with a younger generation recently.  Three friends who have spent the better part of a decade with each other… and they're only eighteen.

Me and "the three best friends that
anyone could have" ;-)
My much younger sister recently went off to college.  Two days before her departure, I spent a whole day with her and her two best friends.  The three of them have been inseparable since they were about 8 years old, and I wanted to treat them to one last day together before they went their different ways.

They could have picked anything to do that day… a trip to Chicago, a mani-pedi, a day at the mall, movie, fancy dinner… you name it.

Canoeing.

They chose to spend the day floating down a river in crummy old canoes, eating a packed lunch,  getting hot and sweaty.  Needless to say, it was a freaking awesome day.

We headed out early, driving about an hour to the canoe rental.  They talked about their friends, their boyfriends and going to college.  They sang out loud to songs on the radio and started snapping pictures to document the day.  Their biggest concern in life was that they were going to three separate schools, and I could feel a tiny bit of desperation coming from the back seat.  They loved each other, and missing each other terrified them.

Can I go back to being 18?

We spent 4 hours on the river that day.  Floating side by side in two canoes, my baby sister with me, her two best friends to our left.  I remember thinking how perfect the day was.  It was about 80 degrees with a lovely breeze.  We floated along in our swim suits, playing country music, laughing about their pre-college adventures, and simply enjoying each other's company.  We ate lunch on the water, (they) got teary eyed at the concept of leaving each other, and (I) felt a bittersweet and heartfelt similarity to the friendship I shared with my high school soul mates.  Amy, Krissy and Kasey
are living our sisterhood just a decade behind us.

The love they have for each other is so pure and heartfelt.
The thing about growing up, that no one tells you, is that your past will sometimes sneak up and smack you on head.  Listening to their stories that day on the river, brought me right back to that terrified feeling that I had when I went off to college.  Letting go of your 'normal' is hard, and moving into the unknown can be terrifying.  But I know that if I hadn't made that big leap of faith when I was 18 years old, I would have missed out on some incredible opportunities, and some pretty amazing people.

So, to my beautiful baby sister and her soul mates:  Keep on keepin' on as best friends… show your love and your support and be proud of each other in everything you do.  But DO NOT be fearful of what lies ahead, because you will always take a piece of each other with you.  Share your friendships and your hearts with everyone you meet.  Because if you're lucky… you'll be like me.  You'll have your soul mates, and your sisters… and your life will not be complete without either.

Love True,

Allison

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Second Summer

Avery's mom in Haiti… look what she found!!
This was the second summer without Avery.  I've gotten pretty good at talking about her.  Referring to her, smiling when the kids talk about her or laughing at a story about her… public situations are typically easy for me now.  It's the quiet moments when one of the girls says something that reminds me of her, or another little girl named Avery makes an appearance in my world, where I struggle.  It's teaching a quiet kid how to do a cartwheel on beam and sticking it out with her until she lands it, and lands it, and lands it (and wants to make sure you see each and every single one) that brings me to tears.  It's looking on Facebook and seeing her mom in Haiti at an orphanage with a boy wearing the "All day Averyday" t-shirt that I designed.  The hardest part, is seeing life go on around me, all these kids who were in her class start competing, and realizing that she still won't.  Nearly 400 kids came to camp this summer, and she was not one of them.  That hardly seemed fair.

Except she was there.



The first time we took this picture, I had my arm around
Avery.  Now, I feel her arms around me.
She was there when the little girl who was crying at check in didn't want to leave her mom.

She was there when a little girl lost her tooth, and one of our counselors had to "play" the tooth fairy.

She was there when a second little girl lost her tooth and the UWW tooth fairy made another appearance.

She was there with us every evening as we left the gym to a pink sky on the horizon.


She was there when we took our Team Photo at the park, the way we do every year.

She was there with every child who felt homesick or tired or missed their Mom.

She was there when one counselor sat up in the dorm with two eight year olds and read stories to them until 3am.

She was there when we were taking care of kids who felt sick, were sick, or pretended to be sick.

She was there on a rough day when I looked up and saw a little girl wearing a sweatshirt that said, "I have the right to remain silent about Jesus… but I won't."

My girls.  Preparing for competition, knowing their friend
is always looking over them.
Oh… how Avery would have LOVED that shirt.  That was the moment, in one of my most exhausted days when I realized that no matter how many years pass by, Avery is always going to be a part of what we do at GymHawks.

And that, in its amazing comfort, helps me to feel a little bit more alright.

Love True,

Allison

Friday, June 27, 2014

#LikeAGirl

"You run like a girl.
You jump like a girl.
You swing like a girl.
You tumble six feet over a four inch beam… like a girl."

That was one of my favorite quotes as a young gymnast.  I think I even had a t-shirt with those words printed on it.  (I had another one that said, "If gymnastics was easy, they'd call it football." but that's beside the point).

I remember being so proud to be an athlete as a kid.  I also remember my peers assuming that since I was a gymnast, I wasn't going be good at basketball or volleyball or running.  I'm not sure when that started, or when I started believing it…. but I do remember a period of time when I was determined to prove my peers otherwise.

Three of my GymHawks, RUNNING like girls toward the
finish line at a charity event!
As a little girl, I remember playing on the playground at recess and swinging from the monkey bars.  I would show off my gymnastics skills to anyone who would watch, and the reaction was usually the same, "DO IT AGAIN!!"  Kids are great that way.  When they are little, they appreciate something spectacular, and something out of the ordinary… and then they want you to teach them how they can do it.

As they age, kids start to get jealous, they get mean and sometimes insulting when they don't understand why someone else can do something they can't.

By 5th grade I had completely vacated the monkey bars at school.  I was getting enough gymnastics after school hours and to be honest, the playground, with all it's angst, wasn't fun anymore.  In 5th grade I spent every recess on the black top playing touch football with the boys.

I always felt the need to prove things like "You run like a girl" were inaccurate.  I took the fitness challenges in PE far too seriously, and would frequently ask the teachers if I could try again to achieve a better score.  I think that there was a part of me who thought I'd failed if I didn't beat most of the boys.  Perhaps it's the perfectionist attitude, but I did NOT want to be considered "a girl" when it came to athletics.

We always stop to take a moment to make sure these kids
can still be kids.  Girls are GOOFY!!!
Why not?  When did "You run like a girl" turn in to a negative connotation?  Why did I feel the need to be anything less than myself.  Why was one attempt at the 600 yard run not enough?  I came across this beautiful ad today and it really made me thankful for the job that I have.

Always #LikeAGirl  (please watch!!)

The young girls in this ad are so confident and proud of being a girl.  They appear strong and confident


and happy.  The older individuals have obviously succumbed to believing the stereotypes without any regard for their own emotional well being.  LADIES>>> DO NOT, I REPEAT, DO NOT EVER GIVE YOURSELF LESS CREDIT THAN YOU ARE DUE.

The ad states that girls change their perspective during or after puberty.  That is asinine to me.  Why, during the most vulnerable times in their lives, do we as a society allow our young women to feel worse about themselves?  They are already confused.  They are already trying to make sense of the world.  And we throw around negative connotations like, "you swing like a girl?"

Can we please teach our children to respond to words like that with an outpouring of excitement.

As women, we need to encourage support amongst women.
It is not okay to tear each other down.  Spend more time
building each other up and you will see mountains move!
"HELL YES, I SWING LIKE A GIRL!  I AM A GIRL!!"

This movement, is one I will absolutely be a part of.  With my own little female army at the helm, I can only pray that I can help a small percentage of these girls to realize their own potential.  I hope that my athletes know how powerful they are, how smart they are, how beautiful they are, how strong they are, and that doing things "like a girl" -- might just be the best way to do them.

Love True,
Allison

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Everything Beautiful is Flawed

"Even the stars, they burn.  Some even fall to the earth.  We've got a lot to learn… No I won't give up." -Jason Mraz

"I won't give up" cover by Lennon & Maisy Stella

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed to the point of exhaustion.  Even during a time in my life where, "hectic" is not a word I could justifiably use to describe my days.  I started writing a blog entry over a month ago, and still have not completed it.  I've been blocked… unwilling to let my mind or my heart open up to the emotion that is required to write this story.  In fact, I feel like I've been holding a lot in when it comes to writing.  Something that isn't good for me… as writing as become my outlet for recovery in so many different aspects of my life.

I don't know what it is about opening ourselves up that seems so scary.  We protect ourselves, maybe from getting hurt, maybe from falling in love, maybe from being vulnerable… who knows.  We take this part of ourselves and we bury it deep and far away in the hopes that no one will uncover our secret, discover our weakness or reveal our true selves.

What's wrong with being ourselves and being damn proud of who we are… straight down to our faults.

I'm a perfectionist to the core, but absolutely NOT PERFECT.  Does that mean I'm defeated?  Sometimes I do feel that way.  And then sometimes I am able to remind myself, "Al, you're human.  You're flawed.  And that's beautiful."

Like Jason Mraz says, "Even the stars, they burn"- nothing beautiful is without its flaws.

For a perfectionist… that's a harsh reality to deal with.  No, my house is not spotless.  I have clothes sitting in the dryer that have been fluffed and re-fluffed more than once (instead of being folded).  I sometimes forget to respond to emails.  I regularly send bills in on (or after they are due), and I definitely put off handling confrontational situations.

But I am kind.  I love doing things for friends and family, and inspiring people makes me feel whole; Being perfect is just a shadow of the person I used to want to be.  Though sometimes it is hard to keep those desires at bay… I know that I am the happiest, when I'm simply being Al instead of comparing Al to what she could be.

On Tuesday, one of my little gymnasts gave me a thank you note that she had made for me.  In it, she praised me for inspiring her.  She used words like "Example, Selfless, Kindest, Role Model, and Amazing." She said my determination was endless and encouraged me to continue being Me and not somebody else.

This eleven year old knows what's up.

Why did it take a child reminding me of what I preach to them each day for me to remember it myself?  Sometimes I'm amazed at these kids and what they retain from us.  They truly are sponges and are just looking for us to show them the way in the world.  It is one thing for me to encourage their own self belief… and to inspire them to live their dreams and be true to themselves… But what kind of person would I be if I didn't set an example by LIVING what I believe in.

New attitude, new approach and a new level of lenience for myself.

Be who you want to be TODAY and share that with those you love; and DO NOT be afraid to take your own advice.  Your flaws are what make you YOU… and thats what makes you beautiful.

Love True,
Allison

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

I AM THAT GIRL: What Good is Popular?

So I know that you all are anxiously awaiting my update on our THREE-PEAT… (okay, maybe not…) but I'm saving that for another day.  I've got something more pressing on my heart.

It's no secret that I've struggled with self affirmation during my life.  As a student, you learn that your grades reflect your performance.  As a child, you learn that your parents will be quick to acknowledge your behavior.  As a gymnast, your coaches and judges will not hesitate to correct your imperfections.  And unfortunately, as a teenager, your peers will inevitably do the same thing…

It's no wonder, as women we are constantly searching for affirmation from an outside source.  We've been raised that way, conditioned that way, and brought up to believe that other people's opinions matter.  No matter the intent… your mom could have been the most supportive and encouraging and affirming person (like mine was), you will still seek out the reassurance.  We yearn for it, and we try to reciprocate.

I've definitely looked for this kind of reassurance my entire life.  I was the gymnast that needed the coach to watch.
First turn: "Tell me what I need to fix."
Second turn: "Is this better?"
Third turn: "That one felt better… did I fix it?"
and so on…
(to my coaches… I apologize)

I was the music student who stood 6 inches away from the microphone because, GOD FORBID someone actually hear what my voice really sounded like.  That actually happened… at a recital no less.

I was the friend who had to ask advice on EVERYTHING!! God bless my friends and their patience and endless advice on everything from, "Should I text him or wait?" or "Is this shirt okay?" or "Do you think she's mad at me?" You would have thought I was completely paranoid… about absolutely nothing.

I never trusted my own judgement when it came to trivial topics, particularly things about myself.  Looking to others for approval became my norm.  It was completely heart stopping when my mother finally answered me one day, "I don't care what you do with your hair, Allison!!" Her exasperation was evident and I almost couldn't attend my hair appointment because, well,  if my Mother wasn't going to give me her opinion I was frozen as to what to do.  (Note: I am completely grateful for that ridiculous outburst)

My sweet friend Angel and I.  I always wanted to be more
like her, yet she always encouraged me to be ME, and
no one else.  Such a blessing she is!
I remember thinking in my later college years (still healing from my illness), that I wish I was more like my roommate.  She was so proud of who she was.  She embraced everything about herself.  She loved her body, embraced her flaws, didn't overanalyze when things didn't go well, shook it off when she disappointed someone, and loved her friends and family so completely… it was like happiness was just radiating right out of her.

I know that she probably didn't feel that way all the time and I'm sure she didn't notice those things about herself to the extent that I did, but I just LONGED to be more like her.

Most of you know I've been reading this AWESOME book, "I Am That Girl," and I keep finding precious gifts in its' pages.  The most recent chapter I read, entitled, "Be Unpopular," is everything I wish I'd learned at 10 years old.  Seeing as I recently came to these conclusions on my own, the chapter has only reaffirmed (shit, I wasn't even looking for affirmation!) what I've been self-affirming over the past few months.

Please check this book out!  It's the perfect read for any girl
14 or 84… I think we can all learn something from
Alexis Jones about being "That Girl."
In short, author Alexis Jones, tackles the topic of authenticity, and how wanting to fit in is natural, but it can come at a cost if you spend too much time trying to be what you think people want you to be and less time becoming who you are.  Okay ladies, I'll bet you a MILLION dollars, that if you sat down at a table and someone ask you to describe your best friend or your favorite gal pal, you could gush for hours and hours about how wonderfully unique and inspiring and amazing she is.  Right?  So, what would happen if she was in that situation and had to talk about you?  Do you think she'd sigh, take a deep breath and then very monotonously recant on how average you are?  How you are a decent friend but nothing to write home about.  How you spend, too much time together and she'd rather you be more like her than you because you're just not as awesome as she is?

HELL FREAKING NO SHE WOULDN'T!!

Like you, your best friend would probably go out of her mind singing your praises about your beauties and your strengths and perhaps complimenting your faults-- because that is EXACTLY WHAT YOU WOULD SAY ABOUT HER!  Why would you assume that she, or anyone else wants you to be some other version of yourself?  You wouldn't tell your friends that you'd rather they change for whatever reason, right?!  Otherwise, they probably wouldn't be your friends.  (yep… I went there).

Someone recently asked me for some advice, and I was finally able to put everything I have learned over the last 15 years of adolescence and young adulthood to good use:

As long as you always remember to be good to yourself and always consider yourself to be smart and capable and important, other people will too.  That was definitely one of the hardest lessons for me to learn.  I always looked for verification or reassurance from others.  I still do from time to time, but I've learned along the way that if I don't respect and value myself first, why should anyone else?  If you worry about pleasing everyone else first, you will limit yourself.  Set goals for who you want to be as a person (no matter where you are in life), and go after them!  Don't let anyone tell you that you aren't capable, or that your dreams aren't worth it.  That is for YOU to decide.

You all are incredibly intelligent and hardworking and dedicated.  It doesn't matter what you choose to do in life.  You will succeed if you always remember how awesome you are.  You're strong… believe it, embrace yourself and be THAT GIRL.  What good is popular anyway?  Quit trying to please everyone, and take a little time to make YOU happy!

Love True,
Allison

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Testimony

Three weeks ago I was asked to give my testimony at church on March 30th.  Naturally, on March 29th at 8pm I still had nothing planned.  It was a challenge to put to words the way I had seen God act on my life.  So I sat there… and I opened up a blank blog page… and I wrote the following message that I read aloud today at church:

My life has revolved around one thing for as long as I can remember.  Gymnastics.  I started taking classes when I was four years old, and for most of my life, I didn't think anything would ever make me as happy as flipping around.  

I was wrong.  In 2011, nearing the end of my grad school career, an opportunity was presented to me.  I had just finished my first year as an assistant coach here at Whitewater, and was offered the chance to start a youth gymnastics program out of our facility.  My coaching position wasn't full time, and the money was very little, and this was a way to supplement my income, and give me the opportunity to run my own gym.  I chose to go for it, solidifying my position as an assistant coach for the team I loved so dearly, and beginning my adventure as an entrepreneur. 

That summer, while working our summer camp, and getting ready to open the doors to my new gymnastics club, "GymHawks," I made a new buddy.  Because I was in charge of the dorms, I had a room with air conditioning (perks of being in management), and this scrawny little 9 year old found her way into my room every single night.  She chatted my ear off, talking about everything and anything.  I couldn't tell if she was homesick or if she just liked sitting in the air conditioning… either way, I got to know Avery really well that summer.  What I didn't find out about her then, was that in the top drawer of her desk, in her very hot, dorm room, Avery had a bible tucked away… which blew my mind, because I had never seen a nine year old carry a bible around, particularly at a sports camp.  

I got to know Avery much better in the fall, as she was one of about 20 kids who joined my club that first session.  Avery was in a class by herself, just she and I, and that girl LOVED to talk.  She also loved gymnastics… so we got along very well.  She and I were a lot alike.  She was definitely a perfectionist, and a little hard on herself… but that girl loved the Warhawks.  We spent so much time talking about all of the college girls and in a way, they became like her big sisters.  They did for a lot of girls, actually.  That was a part of the wonder for me… seeing these little girls look up to their gymnastics idols and interact with them and be encouraged by them was so amazing, and it still is. 

Over the next year and a half, my program grew and the Warhawks got stronger.  They won their first ever Division-III National Championship in 2012, and I could not have been more proud.  In the fall, two of my athletes had become good enough to compete against other clubs.  Avery had just moved up to the level below the competitive team, and she was so excited, and ready to work hard to compete the next year.  By that point, several of my collegiate athletes had coached Avery and everyone had fallen in love with her.  There was just something about Avery… no one could pinpoint exactly what it was… but there was something about her that was really special.  

We didn't figure out what made her so special until that October… after she died.  She was leaving gymnastics on a Wednesday night when she died in a car accident.  When I found out about the accident the next day, there was no name attached to the article, they simply printed that an 11 year old Delavan girl died on hwy 89 in a single car crash.  I knew in that instant that it was Avery.  I can't tell you how I knew, but it was an instant realization.  

I was 26 years old at the time.  And I found myself with over 100 children and 20 young adults that I had to explain this situation to, and I can tell you that at 26 I felt like I was 8.  I couldn't explain it, I couldn't wish it away, or take anyone's pain away… I just felt like I was not old enough or mature enough to be the adult in the situation.  And then I learned who Avery really was.

Avery Johanna was an 11 year old, Bible toting, Jesus loving, Jamie Grace singing, Christian who baked cookies on a regular basis and left them anonymously on people's doorsteps.  She convinced her mom to take her to Winter Jam, and then convinced her to sponsor a child from a third world country because, "Who else would?"  Avery spent hours in the front yard or at the park trying to help kids perfect their cartwheels and their handstands.  She started a Bible study at school even though she was terrified no one would show up. 

She was brave, and the more I learned about Avery, the more I wanted to be like her.  I was raised in the Catholic Church.  We went to church every week, without fail, as we were growing up.  We went to CCD and youth group in high school.  I always prayed, but all my life, those prayers always sounded a lot like letters to God… not necessarily a conversation.  It wasn't until I learned more about Avery and her faith that I really developed a relationship with God.  I had always believed he was there… no question about it… but this was different.

 On the last day of her life, Avery and her Mom were "rocking out" to Jamie Grace's song "God Girl" on their way to school.  When she got out of the car, she turned to her mom and she said, "You know mom, I really am a God Girl." And she was.  

A couple of months after she passed away, her mom found a letter that Avery had written to the little girl they had "adopted" from that impoverished nation.  The letter was addressed to Alphonsine and in that letter Avery asked Alphonsine if she new Jesus… because if she didn't, she would like to tell her about him.  And then, she inscribed the words of Psalm 121, "I lift my eyes to the hills.  Where does my help come from? My help comes from the lord, the maker of Heaven and Earth."  

When this all happened last year, we had to do a lot of healing as a family in that gym.  We dedicated our first home meet of the season to Avery and had t-shirts made in her honor.  The girls ended up smashing the school record that meet, and then went on to win their second consecutive national championship at home.  And there was no doubt in my mind that Avery was there with them.  

We started a scholarship fund in Avery's name at GymHawks, and I've seen kids give back to their communities, write essays about helping others, and design new "Averyday t-shirts" in order to contribute to that scholarship fund.  Avery's mom started a youth ministry in her name, so that she can continue to help kids to make the world a better place while sharing the Gospel.  And Jamie Grace, named a song on her new album "Avery's Song" in memory of our sweet girl.  

Recently, we had another set of struggles.  Two weeks before the national championships, one of our athlete's lost a younger brother, and 24 hours later, another gymnast lost her father.  Our team was devastated by the losses of their teammates families.  They stood by one another with such strength.  They drove up to five hours one way to attend the funerals, missing school and work.  They comforted each other, cried together and prayed together.  They rejoiced when they were all reunited after a week of missing their teammates who were mourning.  And then they went to New York.  No one would have blamed them if they fell apart.  They had barely been able to start healing after these two tragedies and yet they seemed so strong together.  I don't know what the prayer was that day… you can ask Hannah what she said before they all marched out to compete that day… but there was no one who could have beaten them last Friday.  They 3-peated as National Champions, and seeing that, knowing they had come together, prayed together and risen above all the adversity they had been dealt, was an extremely proud moment for me.  

So when I thought I would never love anything as much as I loved flipping around… I was wrong.  Because sharing this passion with so many people and using Gymnastics as an outlet to reach these amazing kids is definitely better than flipping.  


Love True,
Allison