Monday, January 27, 2014


There's a new song on the radio that has just completely touched my soul... every word rings so true, and it really warms my heart.  

"So let your heart, Sweetheart,
 be your compass when you're lost
 and you should follow it where ever you may go."

I have to smile when I hear these words, because in a way, it is the truest and most honest thing I hope every little girl learns.

I think I was 9 in this picture, at my
first National Championships, and so in
love with gymnastics.  

"Yeah it's been a bumpy road,
roller coasters high and low..."

This is an all too familiar story.  Every woman, young or old, understands the concept of ups and downs in life.  From what I remember, happiness for me started when I was 4 years old.  I don't remember a lot before that... but I remember gymnastics, and I remember JOY.  For me the harsh reality of life started when I was 16, and the injuries came.  The pain and the frustration of losing a dream (twice) were a major low on the roller coaster that I rode.  I struggled severely for the better part of two years, trying to figure out who I was meant to be.  

No one would have blamed me if I quit gymnastics, in fact, most people tried to convince me it was the best choice.  That was the first time I remember really letting my heart guide my life.  I told them I could do it, even though I had NO IDEA if I really could.  I had offers to study theater in college, scholarships to go to schools and learn and develop a craft that I definitely had a passion for... but it wasn't enough.  Sure, I loved the arts, probably more than most people know... but I wasn't ready to give up on my first dream.  I just wasn't.  
The aftermath of one of my surgeries.

"So let your heart, Sweetheart,
 be your compass when you're lost
 and you should follow it where ever you may go."

So, I went to school where I could still do gymnastics.  Then there was healing, new friends and new opportunities that brought my coaster car all the way up to the peak of the tracks.  I had never known this kind of happiness, and though it was never easy, I was exactly where I belonged.  

And then I got sick. And the roller coaster car peaked out over the edge, and came crashing down that steep, steep hill. 

"You want to give up 'cause it's dark,"

My soul mates, and 4 of the reasons I never feel alone.
Without a doubt, this had been the hardest thing I had ever had to go through.  Looking back, I think my two knee surgeries were only preparing me for what was to come.  I couldn't rehab this illness the way I could an injury... it was harder.  In a way, I was broken, not just my leg this time... it was me, and the darkness that overtook me consumed my life for a long time.  The climb back up was so long, and so exhausting... but there were some very special people who tethered themselves to me... anchoring me, who wouldn't let me fall back down.  

"We're really not that far apart."

Again, people asked me, "are you sure you want to do this," and my heart was what held the answer.  As broken as I was, I knew that my heart would not accept a life without this sport.  So I worked and I prayed and I made it through the darkness to a place where I could again start climbing the tracks.  

Probably my most treasured photo.
This is me, coaching our Angel, Avery,
at summer camp at UWW.
As an athlete, you face many obstacles and adversity.  As an adult, the same thing happens... 

I had been living through the ups and downs and thriving.  Gymnastics was still a part of my life, and I still felt all of the joy I had felt as a child.  Most likely, because I was sharing that joy with children who were also falling in love with my sport.  Again, I was happy... and then one of those children died, and I didn't think there was a rope long enough to pull me out of the hole that my roller coaster had dropped me into.  

"You want to give up cause it's dark"

When we lost Avery I lost myself again.   I started to get sick, and would never admit it.  I saw her in every child I coached whether it was a two year old or a 22 year old.  Everything hurt.  Gymnastics hurt.  I would be giving some one a correction on a skill and two words in I'd have to turn my head and walk out of the gym.  It was like the air was pulled from my lungs.  I cried more last year than in the first 25 years of my life.  I thought I had felt pain... and maybe I had, but this pain was worse.

"No matter what you'll never be alone."

As deep and dark as that crater was I crashed into, again, I had some crazy incredible people there to help me navigate my way out of it.  There were friends, there were sisters, there were parents and coaches, and there were athletes... all of whom helped me heal.  But mostly, there were those little gymnasts, the ones who reminded me more of Avery than I'd ever liked to admit.  They were there to keep my compass pointed north, to remind me why I do what I do... and to remember her, on a daily basis.  A lot of us helped each other heal... and I learned a powerful lesson- healing together, is healing more completely.  
A balloon release for our God Girl, on the 1st Anniversary of
her death.  Both of my teams, college and little ones, came
together today to celebrate Avery's life, and to remember her.

Coaching my collegiate girls brings me so much joy!
It's remarkable how similar life as an athlete is to life without.  There will always be challenges, things to overcome, people to prove wrong, and things your heart wants to pursue.  I am at a loss for words to describe how blessed I feel to have listened so intently to my inner compass all those years ago.  If I had listened to everyone who encouraged me to give in to the pain, to let it go, would I have the same happiness?  Would my heart be this content with all of the joy I have right now?  

"Forgot directions on your way,
Don't close your eyes, don't be afraid."

These girls are my connection to Avery, and to my childhood
heart that pointedme down this amazing road.

If you come to a point in your life when you're not sure if you're headed down the right path.  If happiness seems so far away you don't know which way is up, or if you are just feeling lost about something or someone... take a second to listen, really listen to that inner compass.  It really does get things right.  

Love True,

"You want to give up cause it's dark.
We're really not that far apart.

So let your heart, Sweetheart,
I am blessed with the best, and most
amazing family!
be your compass when you're lost
and you can follow it wherever you may go.

When it's all said and done
you can walk instead of run
Cause no matter what
you'll never be alone."

Lady Antebellum- "Compass"

Monday, January 13, 2014

Dear Warhawks

To, My Girls:

I write you this letter following the first challenge you have faced this season.  Expectations were high and the bars were set even higher; "By whom" you may ask?  Yourselves, of course.  Your talent, your drive, your hopes and your dreams have brought you to this place.  This place that was built off of years and years of sweat, chalk, tears, broken bones and broken dreams… the perseverance of a program that in only a decade has done a complete 180 degree turn from the bottom of the bottom to the peak of the mountain.

You must understand that outsiders do not see what you've been through.  They don't know of your personal struggles or the bricks that were laid before you in order to pave the way to where you now stand.  They don't know that when one of you is down, the rest of you feel it.  They don't see the way you fight for each other and pick each other up day after day.  All they know is the professionalism, the dominance and the pride of the legacy of your family.  And they know that your family has beaten theirs, so they intend to do whatever it takes to beat yours.

There are always going to be comments that sting and people who forget that you are athletes with feelings, and not robots who perform to perfection on command.  Forgive them.  They are excited to have exceeded their own expectations and proud of themselves, and they absolutely should be.  In doing this though, they do not realize that pointing out their victory to you only highlights the failure that you feel in your heart.  They are going to hurt your feelings and losses will always sting.  The important thing for you to remember is that every experience is a learning experience, and if you came away from this competition knowing the true importance of teamwork, you're one step closer to where you want to be.

I can tell you that my only disappointment would have been if you had lost without grace and humility, and I know that was not the case.  I am so proud of each one of you, and I know that this team has a long journey ahead of them.  I can see in your eyes, the fire has been lit.  Make no excuses, ever.  Take one more turn, and take it with intention.  Promise yourself and your team that you will do WHATEVER you can to better the team, and the end result will take care of itself.  No one is going to hand you anything in this world… and gymnastics is no different.  If there is something you want, you have to get out there and take it.

There is a target on your backs.  As long as you win, everyone else will always strive to beat you.  I only ask that you put blinders on to the nay sayers, ignore the snarky comments and stick to what you know best… there are 20 other girls standing next to you up there who would do anything to see you succeed, and three coaches who believe in you more than you know.  Like I said before, I know the fire has been lit… let's keep adding to it, and watch it light up the sky!

I believe in you!


Saturday, January 11, 2014

First Meet

I couldn't sleep last night.  I know, you're all shocked.

Okay, I slept better than the last time we had a meet.

Our drive to Eau Claire last night was far more exciting than it should have been.  Southern Wisconsin brought on a wicked ice storm and the farther we traveled, the more snow we saw.  It was a long trek, and the three hour drive, quickly turned into a 5 hour drive.  (I'm using the term "quickly" quite loosely).

My initial, "kid on Christmas Eve," mentality took over as soon as we arrived at the hotel.  The first meet of the season is always nerve-racking, as it's been SO long since we've gone through this.

And yet,  as I got up this morning and started to get ready, I found myself on the ever comfortable auto-pilot setting.  I got dressed in my purple and black warm ups, put on my "Driven by Passion" Warhawk t-shirt, packed up my bag for the gym, and wandered down to the hotel lobby to get some coffee in my system (it's freakin early, folks).

As I sit in the lobby, sipping my coffee and waiting for the girls to come down, I remember what I used to feel like the morning of a meet.  This empty feeling in my stomach where nerves would take up residence.  It's funny, because that's kind of how I'm feeling now.  Wait… am I competing???

I guess this feeling never goes away.  I'm not complaining at all, because it's what drives me.  I love this feeling, and EVERY SINGLE PERSON or event that brings it on.  With my Avery ribbon pinned securely on my jacket, and the coolest gentleman playing the guitar for us this morning (he sang, "He Loves You" which I'm sure Avery would have been so happy about)… I think we're ready!

Let's go Hawks!  Time to believe in each other and remember why we are here!! DRIVEN BY PASSION!

Love True,

Friday, January 10, 2014

When I grow up...

I often think about going back to school.  Never mind the insane amount of college loans I already have to pay off from my six-year education at UW-Whitewater.  Don’t get me wrong, I am so thankful to have been able to earn my degrees at a place I now consider my home.  The debts I could do without.  But who doesn’t have college loans to pay back these days? 

As I am teaching and coaching, I am surrounded by higher education.  It is hard not to get bitten by the study bug.  No, I am not interested in taking exams or staying up until 3am to finish a paper… but a small part of me misses the feeling you get when you finally understand a concept (similar to getting a new skill in gymnastics- something I’m also missing these days). 

In considering going back to school (something I probably won’t do again until after I have children) I often think of things I would like to do… or “be when I grow up.” Such a funny concept to me, since by society’s standards I am very much a grown up, it’s just hard for me to remember that sometimes. 
Some things I’ve always wanted to try:

-       Criminal Justice:  Yes… I know what you’re thinking (bitch, please).  I can guarantee you I was bitten by the “ALIAS” bug, in glamorizing the espionage lifestyle.  I still watch the show to this day, and I love every second of it.  Though in my right brain, I know I could never handle being a spy.  I can’t run in heels.

-       Acting/Singing: Oh how I miss the stage.  Some of my best memories from high school were in front of hundreds of people.  Singing on the Grand Ole Opry stage, is something that I will NEVER forget, and though my steering wheel and shower head can both agree that I deserve a Tony Award… I’m not so sure anyone else would. 

-       Counseling/Therapy: It’s no secret that I’ve utilized these services, and I am a huge advocate for them.  The stigma that surrounds getting help for mental health ANGERS me, and I wish like hell I could do something to dispel those stereotypes.  I love talking to people and helping them sort through their problems, and sometimes I really wish I had a degree in psychology or counseling so that I could truly offer help.  Support is one thing (and I’m getting pretty good at that) but HELP is another thing.  Not to mention, that type of degree could make my job (coaching elementary-college aged girls) a hell of a lot easier! HAHA! 

-       Motivational speaker/Philanthropist: When I first got to Whitewater, my major was communications.  I was leaning towards broadcast journalism… I was even in the honors college.  But my first speech class was enough to remind me that my true passion was indeed, health related.  Sometime, I’d like to revisit that career path, and develop my speaking.  I’ve always said, I’m a much better writer than I am a speaker… but I’d definitely like to better those speaking skills!

Like I said, these are all things I’ve thought about becoming at some point in my life.  They are fun dreams to have, and perhaps they are goals I may pursue sometime in the future.  Maybe I’ll go back to school someday… only God knows.  He’s probably chuckling at my plans.  Who knows… maybe someday I’ll wind up as a Motivational Speaker and Counselor who doubles as a CIA operative to bring good to the world.  I’ll definitely be able to use those singing and acting skills as an agent! ;-) 

Dream big people…

Love True,


Sunday, January 5, 2014

I Want to See You Be Brave

Have you ever been so blown away by a person's generosity that you were at a loss for words??  That happened to me today.  Well, not too me... the generosity displayed was between two people I barely know, but the sheer magnitude of what I witnessed melted my heart and completely opened my eyes today, to a new kind of compassion.

At church today, someone mentioned a brand new member who needed a ride home from service.  As a relatively new member of the church, I continue to be blown away by the kindness and openness that is just overflowing among these beautiful Christians.  A few friends of mine, some I know well, some I'm getting to know, and some I met today planned to gather at someones house and make brunch.  A day of relaxation and fellowship sounded truly magnificent to me, and of course I was all in!

Of course these wonderful friends of mine invited the "new girl" who is an international student from an incredibly warm climate to join us.  She was wonderful, and I truly enjoyed learning about her culture and her faith.

While we were chatting and preparing a ridiculously delicious brunch, another young woman (who I met today) came over bearing gifts.  Lots of gifts.  Not only did this beautiful soul bring two amazing dishes to the brunch, she came with a huge tote bag full of winter coats, turtle necks, sweatshirts and other warm clothing for our African friend.  Upon meeting her at church, this individual promptly went home and dug right into her own closet to make sure that this young woman was warm enough in this frigid Wisconsin climate.

As she pulled out one piece of clothing after another, it was all I could do to not burst into tears.  I was so moved by her selflessness I immediately thought to myself, what could I spare??  Do I have anything I could share with this person in need, or other people in need???

So often, I find myself with great ideas, positive intentions and inspiring direction.  Yet, I would be a liar if I said I always followed through with them.  If I had actually done a good deed, a truly selfless act, every time I thought of one... maybe I would have been the one who boldly clothed this girl today. I think sometimes those outrageous acts of kindness can be scary.  Putting yourself in a position to really give of yourself can make you feel vulnerable, and yet, I can only imagine how absolutely invigorating it can be.  

So I am going to challenge you all to be brave.  The next time that a random or premeditated act of generosity pops into your head, act on it.  I will.  Say what you want to say to people.  Reach out and make someone a believer in kindness.  I WANT TO SEE YOU BE BRAVE!

Love True,

Sara Bareilles- "Brave"

(I love this song)