Today marks the 11th anniversary of the death of our 11 day old son; it was an event which was undoubtedly terrible and certainly left a mark on the lives of all my family, most of whom members of Meridian know well. I have never been sorry for those 11 days and whatever else they brought, his short life was a gift in many ways. These days the time for sympathy is long gone and the early part of April is always one of reflection for me, never more so than over the last year. Long before his short time with us, I was a parent who had chosen to step outside the typical and home educated my girls, having a strong feeling that for them, a life in school was not the best place for them. We adjusted and changed and re-evaluated over the years, one sport for one, another for another, school for one, home for another, close parenting for one and sometimes tough love elsewhere but Freddie’s brief time really did bring home how very important it is to try and treat all children as precious and individual and make the right choices for each.
During his life – well before I was a coach although well into my tenure as a gym mum – I remarked to his doctor that life had to be worth it and far more than just an existence; that it was about round off flics on the grass (remember, I was not a coach then!) and swinging around the bars, laughing with joy at the things you could do and learn and experience. As it happened, she too had a life in gymnastics and she understood where I was coming from and it shaped much of our joint care of his life. And afterwards, as we helped our girls try to come to terms with such an unexpected turn of events, we had a lot of time to see the effect of trauma on their lives, from how they changed in confidence in their school work, to the loss of self belief in the gym, the sudden reluctance to step too far away from us or return to places that had known them ‘before’. It was a long haul and one we still see the effects of today – but more positively than you might imagine. Trauma brings a lot of baggage, no doubt at all, but it also has the opportunity for growth in empathy, in uncovering your true passions, in self reliance and holding yourself to account for your own desires.
In that time, my girls were surrounded with love and care and affection by people in their gym and their dance school and in our wider circle of family and friends, who took time to fill the gaps that we were just too mentally exhausted to fill. And now it is my turn to offer that service to the children in my care; I’ve had many emails and phone calls and messages over the last week or two about gymnasts who are anxious about returning to gym and life in general. They are worried about getting ill, they are worried about not being good enough at gym any more, they are worried they might lose their place in squad or hurt themselves, they are worried about doing activity again and being away from home or their parents.
I want to promise you that we know. We can’t pretend to get every single worry or foresee every single issue, but I do promise you that we care. It’s our job to be part of the chain of educators and coaches across the country that are going to put these children back together again and I promise you that we are going to live up to that challenge. It is hardly surprising that after a year of the grown ups in the whole country apparently having no idea what is going on, that these children have had their confidence rocked. I don’t blame them for being reluctant or worried. But I do know that getting their bodies moving again is going to be good for their souls as well as their muscles, I do promise that we will move mountains to make sure they are in a group that suits them, with a coach who cares about them, following a programme of gymnastics that will develop them. I do promise that top of our list of priorities is seeing them smile and making them laugh. I do promise that they don’t need to worry about not being good enough. We aren’t the type of gym that focuses on results above compassion anyway, but now more so than ever, it is our job to help them believe everything is going to be okay again.
As part of that, I want to promise you that our care of them will be as holistic as possible – that their hearts matter far more than anything else right now. As part of that, we are investing in a county wide initiative to train our staff in supporting children through trauma, we are training staff on specific courses about injury prevention and injury care and we are going to be working with a strength and conditioning coach to build them back up. We will be planning lots of ‘small success’ opportunities for our GFA and General gymnasts and we will – eventually – hold that long awaited competition for those who want it. We are working on a plan to increase our capacity as soon as restrictions lift so more gymnasts can have second sessions. But most of all, we are planning sessions that they will absolutely love, so that as soon as you can view again, they will have the delight of showing you their progress.
None of that means our standards will slip; everything that matters to me as an owner stays in place – well planned sessions, good behaviour, community spirit, compassion and progression. We always ask our gymnasts – at every level – to give us their best and as they progress through the gym we request their best efforts all the time. That is good coaching. What I can also promise you is that we’ve adjusted our expectations and we know coming back and rebuilding strength and skills and confidence will take time. We’ve got their back and their individual success at their own personal level both in gymnastics and mental recovery is what matters now. It’s been a tough year, but I do believe that we can all work together now to be stronger for it.
As a close friend of mine wrote 11 years ago today, ‘Sometimes it snows in April’. It does. It can be unsettling and difficult and brutal. But it can also be beautiful.