Allie Lyons- Turning Struggle Into Strength
Watching them struggle is the hardest part. Truly struggling, for a long time. For months, through injury, through growing that throws off skills, through loss of loved ones that effect them in the gym, through self doubt and a miriad of other struggles. Its the one of the hardest parts. The hardest part as a coach, the hardest part for a parent, the hardest part for team mates. When they come out triumphant though, its something I can’t describe. When you’re in it you wonder if you’ll ever get them through to the other side and you doubt every choice you make. Am I being too hard? Not hard enough? Are my expectations too high? Are they too low? Did I say the right thing? Do they know that I love them? It's all such a roller coaster of emotion. Gymnastics is truly a sport like no other. Every aspect of your life affects your performance because gymnastics is 40 percent skill and 60 percent mental toughness.
This one is gonna be lengthy guys, so just stay with me.
Allie was 4 years old the first time I coached her. She came into the gym and immediately cried because she had to leave her mom. I was coaching a tumble monkey class and had an assistant during warm up so I walked into the hallway to speak with her mom and let her know this was very normal and she would come around. I found Jessica, her mom, hiding in the hallway so Allie couldn’t see her and I introduced myself and we had a quick conversation about Allie and I assured her she would come around in a few weeks if not by the end of class that day. Little did I know how many more conversations myself and coach Taylor would have with Jessica regarding Allie and her growth as an athlete and child.
Allie did come around, she fell in love with the sport quickly. She had this fire in her at such a young age that just brought so much joy to the gym. She was so motivated to be her best and by the time she was five she was doing back handsprings, cartwheels on beam and competing on our team. I will never forget how we all erupted the first time she vaulted over the table at a meet and how big she smiled was when she did it. Allie was so excited everyday she was in the gym and every competition she went too. She set goals and knocked them out repeatedly. She was the best team mate and she lived for gymnastics.
Then something happened.
Allie grew up and like we all do- lost her childhood mindset that anything was possible, Allie got injuries, Allie lost her grandfather, Allie struggled for almost three years to get a kip, Allie got really tall really quickly and Allie started doubting herself. It was progressive and no matter what her parents, Coach Taylor and I did to encourage her, it felt like she was never going to come out of the funk she was in. There is so much to this struggle it would take me days to write it all down but trust me when I say, she was fighting an internal battle that no one could save her from except her. Not me, not Taylor, not her team mates, not her parents. There were days she would fall apart in my or Taylor’s arms with the only explanation of what was wrong would be “I dont know”.
Fast forward to this season- Allie is 11 now and we had come to a point that she had such a negative headspace that her progress in the gym was stagnant. Taylor and I were frustrated, she was frustrated, her parents were frustrated not with the lack of progress but with seeing her in such a difficult place and not being able to fix it for her. With her fear to try because of the possibility of failure.
Allie took a fall doing a tumbling pass that she had been doing since she was six and though she didn't hurt herself, it scared her. For two weeks she wouldn’t do the tumbling pass. Finally after Taylor and I spent 6 hours working with her and me staying at the gym until 9:30pm at night- she did it. Practice was over at 8:00pm but with the support of her parents, we weren’t going to let her leave without doing it because I knew it was now or never. We were at a crossroads. We had to get through this hump and we had to figure out how to push past this negative head space she was in. This self doubt was not a place we were going to let her live in anymore.
That was a turning point for us. After two, going on three, full seasons of fighting this internal battle we were getting somewhere. Something as simple as overcoming that mind block was a big step in the right direction. We started to slowly see Allie coming back to life in the gym.
Then another devastating blow- at the 2nd meet of the season Allie missed the state meet qualification score. At that same meet, she was ready to tackle her beam and so excited to compete! Then she fell… twice. When she came off the floor she was excited for her teammates who had a successful meet, but you could tell she was extremely disappointed with herself. Her mom embraced her and the other moms paused celebration with their children to show Allie some extra love. No one dwelled on it, or even mentioned the disappointment, but we all felt it. It was one of the saddest moments of my career. Not because I cared about her placement or her score but because I didn't want to take steps back again. We had come so far together and we had truly gotten to what felt like the top of a very tall mountain only to fall down another few feet. I wanted her to see herself the way that Taylor and I saw her. Brave, strong and capable. I was worried this was going to cause so much regression mentally. But it didn't.
I'm not sure what shifted but that disappointment didn't break her. She came into the gym and worked. She worked hard. She polished things and focused like all of a sudden she just decided she was done. Done letting a false narrative control her life. Done letting her inner dialogue tell her she couldn’t. The past year of her mom, Taylor and I working together to help her get to this place was finally coming to fruition. She was finally seeing what we saw when we looked at her everyday. A champion in and out of the gym.
Then something truly remarkable happened. Not only did Allie qualify for the state meet at the next meet but she finished 5th place all around and for the first time in almost 4 years, she took home a Gold medal. She is back, and when you see her competing or see her in town and know she is a gymnast- know she is the best kind of gymnast. One that has failed more than she has succeeded and one that never let that failure stop her no matter how bad she wanted to give up. One that has truly EARNED what she has. Allie has truly grown up on the mats and I can't even put into words how truly proud I am of what she has overcome. There is no way for me to accurately put into words the journey we have had together but honestly, it's been amazing. The love that I have for Allie overflows my heart and being on this journey with her has been hard because seeing her struggle has kept me up at night so many times. However seeing her at the top of this mountain and enjoying the view is truly beautiful. Even on our worst days together, they are still some of the best of my life.