Friday, 10 October 2014

A chance in a lifetime

I'm sure if you look back in life that there was a time or opportunity that arose that genuinely shaped your life and from which further opportunities stem.
In my life this is certainly the case.......

Way back when I was in year 7 (or the first year as it was known back then), an advert on the school bulletin looking for first years interested in helping out at a recreational gymnastics class was that break that unbeknown to me back then, was to shape my future and give me numerous opportunities along the way.
I didn't have a lot going for me back then. I think I was below average intelligence, not particularly good at anything...I didn't stand out (apart from the fact that I wasn't dressed in trendy clothes and didn't possess the latest 'must haves'). I seem to recall about six individuals coming forwards to help. I am so grateful for that opportunity. What was initially just a 'helping hand' kind of arrangement for an hour a week ended up being rather a full time commitment in many respects. 
I went along to the sessions and was taught how to recognise, support and correct some of the very basic skills and then was given the role of a helper in the recreation sessions along side someone with more experience than myself.
Initially my involvement stemmed from a personal interest in gymnastics. I did attend the school gym club and always had a 'wanna be' a gymnast attitude, helping out with the recreational group enabled me to be 'in' the gym longer. 
It wasn't long before myself and some of the other volunteers were asked to help out with the squad girls. Of course I jumped at the opportunity. It was every girls dream to be surrounded by talented children who I was ever so slightly envious of. Helping with the squads enabled me even more time in the gym which included breaks where we were able to play on the equipment. Observing others learning skills and being made aware of the teaching points related to each skill translated into my having a better awareness of the skills which I was thus able to put into practise on my self.
One of the girls -who was also a neighbour and friend of mine, was also keen to progress on a personal level and together we mastered many quite complex skills. The children we were helping were at that time taking grading exams and obviously as a result of teaching them we also became quite knowledgeable of the routines and it wasn't long before the pair of us were also following suit. This was where our luck began to take a leap forwards......
The teacher and head coach was impressed by our dedication and allowed my friend the opportunity to train and take the examination too....well I couldn't have that! So I worked like mad trying to perfect my own skills. What luck! I was also considered and given the opportunity to take the exam.... we both passed!

So that's how it started, from one level to the next and the next.......

Along side the gradings we were also progressing in our coaching this stage (for me certainly) the coaching side was still about being in a gymnastic environment. As we were seen as working quite well alongside the squad gymnasts, we were offered the opportunity to attend a certified coaching course which would lead to a recognised coaching qualification. About four of the initial helpers went along, we attended the course and then successfully obtained the qualifications.
Without my realising it, I had gone from a child who really had no known prospects to a recognised qualification and a vastly extending personal love and knowledge of gymnastics.

The story continues......

After passing the coaching exam and three 'National Development Plan' awards, both my friend and I were given the opportunity to be part of the squads. Well to both of us that was really like a 'dream come true'. I have to confess I loved it! Those of you who knew me back then will remember well that I talked, breathed, ate and slept gymnastics, it was my life. 
I worked really hard, really really hard. At my peak I trained 13.5 hours a week and coached in addition to that. 6 days a week in the gym...there was little time for anything else!

It was tough for us in the world of general competition as although we had mastered a great many skills, we had started our sporting careers late in life and as competitions tend to run in age groups we were always at a disadvantage against those who had been involved in the sport from early childhood.

In 2008 the British Gymnastics Association launched a new set of levelled gymnastics competitions which were specifically aimed at beginners and those who had joined the sport later in life. We were told about the competitions and it was suggested that we should work towards taking part. My initial reaction was that we were being 'dropped', the requirements were pretty simple. We did take part and created routines which followed the guidelines. 
As a new level of competition, there weren't that many people that entered that first year (certainly not in our age group anyway). I was lucky enough to qualify at County level for the National final. I wasn't even sure what that meant at that time.
What it meant was that I had to undertake rigorous training in the gym and at county training sessions and then I had to represent Oxfordshire at a big competition in Leicestershire. It was all rather scary and unknown, as a club we hadn't been in any national competitions prior to that time. My coach told me that I should just enjoy the event and do my best. She did stipulate one beat the scores of a said girl on a rival team!
Well, I did manage to beat the score overall of the said rival AND I managed to win the competition!! The first national gymnast in Oxfordshire and the first for the Southern Region for many years. I was an overnight star :-) :-) :-)
It was an amazing experience and one I'll never forget.
The following year we took part again, this time at the next level. I wasn't so lucky although did make it to the national final as the team reserve.

Alongside the excitement, I continued with my coaching career. In 1991 I was was given the opportunity to do the Club Coach course which if I passed the exam would enable me to run my own gymnastics club......the following year my gymnastics experience landed me a job as a gymnastics coach and councillor on an American Summer camp. The Summer of '92 was a fantastic and memorable one and a fabulous thing to have done. I grew on so many levels that Summer.

Upon returning to the UK, once again I was given the chance to go on yet another coaching course this time at the Lilleshall National Sports Centre. It was a four night residential course working with some of Britain's top gymnasts at that time, including the up and coming Beth Tweddle.

My work and commitment with children in the gym secured me my first nursery job in 1994 and from that I was able to train as a Montessori teacher. I was also lucky enough to be able to work at a council run sports centre running my own recreational programme for a year or so.

I retired from gymnastics myself when I was eighteen, not because I wanted to but more because many of my team mates who were younger than me were retiring at that time, plus I had college commitments which really needed my attention. I continued to coach for many years but work commitments meant I had to retire from that to about six years later....that was until four weeks ago!!!

Finally three children later, rather nervously, I returned to my old gym club which no longer runs a competitive squad but has returned to it's roots as a recreational gymnastics club. The Little Lady along with a friend decided that they might like to try the sport. It was strange being back in the building in which I spent so much of my later childhood, strange being in a place where so many of my dreams were turned into reality. 
My coach (as I have come to realise - big sister figure) still looks the same and still provides a service to the community at an 'affordable to all' rate. How much I owe to this woman for giving me that initial opportunity.
I sat on the first week of the term quietly in a side storage area, another parent there with her daughters for the first time. From the outside she didn't know of my history or connection to this place, we smiled knowingly at the productive and warm environment that had been created for our daughter's. 
It is hard to sit back and watch in this sort of environment, the urge is there to help and correct, to make the skills look better. I found myself itching to speak up, desperate to help but kept quiet and didn't say a word. By the Little Lady's third week I was asked if I would like to help...week four I was there in my kit!
It's like riding a bicycle, you never forget. The only difference now is I no longer need to be in the environment for myself. No longer is it about me, now is the time to give back, to replenish where I have reaped. My friend was there too. Unknowingly we both signed our children up at the same time having had no meaningful contact for over twenty years. 
I have no idea where this journey will lead me, but what I do know is that way back (30 years ago) someone gave me a chance and I took it and flew........