A National Experience

Kadyn and I had our first experience at the Men’s Junior Olympic National Competition. This year it was held in Reno, Nevada, and although Mike and Kiernan weren’t able to join us, Kadyn and I had a really good time! The week was so full, it’s hard to pare it down, but here’s my takeaway.

To compete at Nationals, Kadyn had to qualify with a certain score at Regionals. In his level and age group, only 24 athletes in the country met that score. So just being able to participate in Nationals is a great accomplishment. Having said that, Kadyn went with two goals in mind: Hitting all his routines and making the US National Team.

The culmination of his competition season, Kadyn was buzzing with nerves, excitement and anticipation as we arrived for his first training session at the Convention Center. Since he was a young gymnast, he’d heard about what a big deal it is to go to Nationals. I stopped at the entrance to freeze the moment. “Kadyn, you’re here. You made it to Nationals!” The look on my boy’s face will forever be imprinted in my memory- he was pure joy. He had a sparkle in his eye that reflected so much back to me. In that moment, he was able to justify all the hours of training, pain, disappointment and frustration and realize this was his reward. He was proud. He was happy. He was accomplished. He was excited and determined. It was one of the best moments of my week.

On the training floor those first few days, it was a different story. These workouts were open to athletes of all ages. So all the top Junior gymnasts in the country were training right beside him and some of the 17 and 18 year old boys were doing some fierce skills. Because his home gym has its fair share of champions that he trains with, I didn’t think this would phase Kadyn, but I was wrong. He looked terrified. He wasn’t alone, many other athletes looked the same. And it definitely affected him. I’ve had the opportunity to watch Kadyn train a lot and I’ve never seen him look as flustered as he did those two days. He couldn’t stay on any of the apparatus. He was falling on skills he’d been doing for years. It was a “Bad News Bears” experience. I prepared myself for a rough two days of competition.

But true to form, on competition day Kadyn stepped up and pulled it together. All season, he hadn’t been able to get through a competition without having a fall, but at Nationals he hit six for six on both days- without a single fall! He even landed a new vault to the delight (and possibly surprise) of his coaches. One of his goals: MET!

I had my usual competition experience, battling nerves and excitement, but also enjoying watching such amazing gymnastics. It helped that my sister, Evie, was there to share it with me. She knew when to talk and when to leave me alone and I was so grateful!

After Day 1 of competition, Kadyn was in third place…in the country! He was hoping that with a good performance on Day 2, he’d be able to move up to second place. But in the end, my son was awarded the Bronze Medal in the United States Junior Olympic Nationals Competition!

Unfortunately, because only the first and second place athletes were named to the US Team, his second goal of making the team was not met. So the toughest part of my week happened after the competition was over, when I watched my son wrestle with anger and disappointment. Angry because of the outcome. Disappointment, well, in himself. Despite the fact that he’d had two good days of competition, he still was unable to reach his goal of making the team and that’s a lot for an eleven year old to process. So I had to give him space and time to work through his emotions.

It had been such an intense week of gymnastics and suddenly I found myself unable to comfort my boy. I also had so many of my own feelings to sort through. On the one hand, I was so proud that he was third in the COUNTRY! But yes, I’ll admit that I was also feeling the same as Kadyn, albeit at a much lesser degree.

Part of what contributed to how he felt is that out of the twelve athletes from all the age groups earning the title of National Champion, three of them came from our home gym. That must normalize and possibly diminish his tremendous accomplishment of finishing third; one of the pitfalls of training at the top training facility in the country.

I knew how badly he wanted to be named to that team and it was so hard to watch him work through his feelings. But I put my stuff aside and focused on my job as his mom. I allowed him the dignity of his experience without trying to make him feel better, granting him the time to sit in that disappointment and anger. Yep, that was hard. I loved him through it as best I could and eventually we both moved through our feelings and came to a place of gratitude.

Now he is now more determined than ever to grab a spot on that team next year.

I’ve got so much to be proud of with this kid. Some of my favorite memories of his first Nationals are watching him meet up with other athletes from all over the country- boys he has been following on Instagram or watching on videos for the past several years. Although these boys are competitors, they’re also kindred spirits and when you throw them all in a room together you can catch a glimpse of the young boys they are outside the competition floor. They laugh and joke and have a fantastic time together!

And then there’s the relationships he has with his teammates. His home gym had 16 athletes qualify to Nationals- more than any other club team in the country. And this year, our gym’s Level 8 (Kadyn’s level) and 9 boys won the top Club Team in the country! Every day these boys push each other to be better athletes. Sure, they sometimes fight, but like brothers, they quickly make up. They cheer for each other louder than we do. (Well, maybe- but I can be pretty loud.) He’s growing up with them, learning all about gymnastics and other worldly things that I sometimes wish he wasn’t learning quite so fast! But these boys- they love each other. What a gift to witness!

Another highlight of Nationals was watching his coaches. All year long these coaches grill him, push him, teach him, guide him, sometimes yell at him, and also help him beyond the physical skills- teaching him about the power of his mind, discipline, learning how to listen and honor his body to stay healthy. They help him grow emotionally, behaviorally and physically. I believe they are some of the most influential people in his life. So witnessing these coaches celebrate his victories, knowing that he has reaped the benefits of all their hard work, that is just priceless.

And taking this journey with the other parents has been an amazing experience. Yes, we’re all crazy. Certifiable. Nuts. But we come together with a common love- our boys. And that has created a bond that will stay with us for the rest of our lives.

So one down, and if we’re lucky, seven more JO Nationals to go. Kadyn has a week off and then he’s back at the gym, working hard, trying new skills and setting his eye on next year.

Who knew gymnastics would play such a big part in our lives? With all that flipping and flopping, I’m hoping we’ll both land on our feet and stick it!

In loving,

Sarah

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