The power is still out at the house, and we are still living out of a hotel room but life must go on. This weekend we traveled to watch Payton, my 11 year old daughter, compete in The Christmas Invitational in Fayetteville, AR. There were gymnasts from 4 states represented and some USAG national level judges there to officiate the event. It was Payton’s first big meet as a level 7 gymnast, with more soon to come. This was the real thing. It was held in Barnhill Arena on the campus of the University of Arkansas, not just in some gym. She had been training years for this. I got excited just walking in there. I can’t imagine what Payton felt.
The parents and spectators seemed a bit different at this event too. Many had laptops set up with spreadsheets on them. They would greedily type up scores on all the gymnasts as they came up. I don’t know if it was just for something to do to keep them busy like score cards at a baseball game, or if they were keeping tabs on the competition.
The girls there were all so good. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to make an Olympic team. The pool of talent must be huge. Just eight girls get the chance to make the Olympic team, every four years.
When Payton took the floor for her first event, the floor routine, my heart was pounding. She was first to go out of her little group so I’m sure that the anxiety was a little bit higher. I was so excited for her that I could barely hold the camera still. Level 7 is the considered the first “optional” level, meaning Payton had her own routine with her own personal music. Everything went flawlessly. She came through like a seasoned champ - a 9.25. I was so proud it almost brought me to tears.
On the beam during warm-up, she fell three times on a component. But when it came to do the routine for all the marbles she nailed it. I could see some of the other girls on her team had worried looks on their faces before they got started. Payton told me later that some of the girls on other teams were so nervous they were vomiting. Payton, on the other hand, looked calm and collected out there. I was so proud of her ability to focus and channel positive energy into her routine. She was able to finish ahead of a few of the girls who do better than her in practice.
I don’t get to see her practice that much, but she is very dedicated to what she does and loves every minute of it. Directly following school, she heads straight to the gym where she spends 4 hours working out per day. After that, she quickly eats, does homework, and then goes to bed to start the cycle over again. She literally eats, sleeps, and breathes gymnastics. Often when I pick her up she seems exhausted but she never complains that much. I never had this type of dedication as a youngster but she wants to do it and often gets on my case to make sure that I drive her to practice early so she is ready to go when it starts.
I don’t know a lot about gymnastics. I have watched it on TV during the Olympics and other televised events but what I do know is that these little girls are tough. I often see them with casts on their arms and legs and still get out there maintaining some element of their routine. They may not all be Olympians or Collegiate gymnasts but they are learning a great skill in this sport. They are learning to focus and set goals, and most important of all they learn to overcome failure. I can already tell Payton is mature beyond her years. I’m sure a lot of it is due to her involvement in her sport.