When my oldest daughter was born, she arrived three weeks early and weighed only 4 pounds and 8 ounces. They believed that I had a partial placental abruption, which could have caused the low birth weight. She was super tiny but had no other issues and was able to go home within the normal two days. She did not have to stay in the NICU at all. That alone was such a gift. Other than being tiny, she was perfectly healthy, or at least we thought so. When she was just 4 months old, she started running a really high fever that we were struggling to control. She ended up in the hospital for almost a week because they couldn’t keep the fever down. After running countless tests, they discovered that the reason for the fever was that she had a UTI and hydronephrosis (swelling of her kidneys due to a buildup of urine). Upon further testing, they discovered that she had Vesicoureteral reflux, which is the fancy term for urinary reflux. Basically, whenever she urinated, her bladder wouldn’t empty all the way, and instead, the urine would reflux or move back up the ureter into her kidneys. That was what was causing the infections. She was immediately put on a preventative antibiotic that she took every single day for 2 years straight. Every time she ran a high fever we had to take her to urgent care or the ER to make sure she didn’t have a UTI. Let me tell you, she ran a fever a LOT. She eventually ended up needing to have surgery to fix it all when she was 2 years old and has had no issues since, thankfully. Oh, I almost forgot to mention that she also had acid reflux and threw up all the time. She couldn’t go without wearing a bib or she would ruin every single outfit she had. Because of the reflux she hated being on her stomach. Every time we tried to lay her down for some tummy time, she would scream. This resulted in her spending most of the time on her back, so she developed a pretty significant flat space on one side of her head. In fact, I think she still has a slight flatness to that side of her head, but you can’t tell because of her hair. We were so close to having to wear one of those helmets all the time. I honestly don’t know why they never put her in one because she really should have worn it. It was that bad. As a first time parent, it was all pretty overwhelming.
On top of all that going on the first year of her life, she was always extremely tiny and super skinny, and she has remained that way since the day she was born. It has just been in the last 2-3 years that she has shot up in height and is getting close to reaching me. She’s still crazy skinny, though. It’s certainly not because she doesn’t eat like my youngest. She eats almost anything and can put some food away like nobody’s business. Because she was so small as an infant, she had low muscle tone in her ankles and in her wrists. She was delayed at reaching a lot of milestones. She never really crawled like a normal child does. She didn’t even army crawl. She rolled everywhere she wanted to go. She knew how to turn her body so that she could be facing the direction she wanted, and then just rolled where she wanted to go. It was the funniest thing. She was delayed in pulling up. She was delayed in standing, and she was delayed in walking. In fact when she was about 13 or 14 months old, her doctor referred us for a physical therapy evaluation. At that point she was barely pulling up, not taking any steps, and wasn’t cruising around the furniture like typical kids her age. At the same time, her pediatrician also suggested that we try attending a parent-tot gymnastics class so that she could maybe work on strengthening her gross motor skills. If you have never been to or seen a parent-tot gymnastics class, it is a class where the parents and little ones really just sing and “play” in a gym together. They did things like rolling, climbing on mats, hanging from a bar, walking on a low beam, jumping into a pit of foam blocks, and more things like that. Well, let me tell you, within a couple weeks of starting the class that kid was walking on her own. She never had to go to physical therapy and never slowed down. I really believe that gymnastics was what encouraged her to walk. It has been almost 14 years since we went to that first gymnastics class, and gymnastics has been her love ever since. I’m not sure that she knows who she is without gymnastics. It has been her whole world for so long.
If you don’t know anything about gymnastics, let me be the first to tell you that this sport is no joke! She has put in anywhere from an hour a week at the very beginning to as many as 25 hours per week into this sport for over 13 years. She was even homeschooled for a little while so that she could train in the mornings. Gymnastics is a lot of hard work. It requires discipline. It requires focus. It requires incredible strength. It requires sacrifice. It requires you to give up everything else, and I mean everything, in your life. It requires time, and lots of it. It requires a willingness to hurt and ache all over and still get up and go back the next day. You get knocked down literally and figuratively over and over again and have to brush it off and keep going. You have to truly love this sport in order to give up your whole life for it. My daughter even tried out for her high school gymnastics team last week and made the varsity squad. What does that mean? More gymnastics! She will go straight from school to practice, practice for 4 hours, and then go straight back to her school (eating diner on the way in the car) to practice some more. That’s insane, I know!
What do you gain from this sport? Why would you put yourself through it all? You have to truly love this sport in order to give up your whole life for it, right? I am here to tell you that my kid LOVES this sport. I don’t remember a time where she has ever thought about quitting. I can only think of a handful of times when she didn’t want to go to practice. This sport has taught her so many things. It has taught her to be strong. It has taught her to push through when things get tough. It has taught her how to be a leader. It has taught her how to fight for what she wants. It has taught her that winning isn’t everything because when you don’t win, you just get back up and work harder. It has taught her that it’s okay to fail as long as you pick yourself up and get back out there. It has taught her how to fight through obstacles and setbacks that get in the way like injuries or mental blocks. Even though gymnastics is often an individual sport, it has taught her about the importance of teamwork and that supporting your teammates above all else matters. It has taught her to have drive and determination. Gymnasts are some of the toughest kids I know both mentally and physically. It has taught her about taking care of her body and the importance of exercise. It has taught her about dedication. Most importantly, it has given her some of the best friendships that she could ever ask for. Gymnastics has also given her some of the best role models to look up to. Not only are those role models current and former olympians (some that she has been lucky enough to meet), but they are also the coaches that have touched and shaped her life from that very first pre-team coach when she was 6 years old that just “got her”, to the coaches that pushed her farther than she thought she could go and those that just simply loved her. She has been truly blessed by this sport and the people in it. Despite all the bad you hear in the news lately about this sport, there is still so much good in it.There are hundreds of thousands of girls just like my daughter who truly love this sport and have been shaped by it in a good way.
Is all the time and sacrifice she has put into this sport and the sacrifice we have made as a family worth it? I think so. I really do. This girl has gone from a teeny, tiny peanut to becoming this strong, beautiful young lady that amazes me every day. I don’t know how she does all of the work that she does with gymnastics, still manages to make good grades, and is such a fun, cool kid who makes me laugh all the time (She’s a true blond! LOL!). To all of you new moms out there who are overwhelmed by simply being a first time parent, I see you. I know it’s tough but you can do it. To all you moms out there struggling with a child with medical needs or developmental delays, I see you. Don’t give up on your child. Fight through it all and your kids will overcome and they will grow into amazing human beings. I promise you that they will surprise you. For all of you parents whose kids are totally wrapped up in their sport whatever it may be, I see you. I know the sacrifices you are making for your kids to do what they love. I know how crazy and hectic it can be, but you’ve got this. To those of you that are in the early stages of figuring out what your little one loves, I see you. Be patient and let them figure it out on their own. When they do figure it out, strap in because it’s going to be a long, bumpy ride. You will make it through it, though. I never knew that tiny peanut that couldn’t walk, who was in and out of the ER all the time, and who had an odd shaped head would become this beautiful gymnast. I am so proud of the young lady my daughter is becoming and for the lessons she has learned from this sport. Will she ever go to the Olympics? No. Will she continue to push herself and continue loving the sport? Absolutely. Is it all worth it? YES! I am thankful that this sport has given her the wings to fly. To all of you moms out there…Whatever you are facing, it’s worth it!