Monday, November 18, 2013

Failure is Not an Option

Watching Abby ice skate yesterday was an exercise in breathing. I had to discipline myself to exhale, to let the visions of cracked skulls and ER visits exit my anxious mind through deep breaths out. At times, I had to make myself watch her, because everything inside me wanted to cringe and look away.

The thing is, Abby has no fear of falling. Or pain. Or injury. We put her on skates yesterday, stepped onto the rink, and then watched her feet move those skates as quickly as they could without regard for the balance or stability of her upper body. There was no easy-does-it. No starting slow and working up speed proportional to skill. She entered the rink like Bambi on the frozen lake: all runaway limbs slipping and sliding out from under her.

At first, Josh held onto her, coaching her while keeping her vertical when she began to topple. But it wasn't long before she began pushing his hands away, fiercely determined to master the ice by herself. Eventually, she found her center of gravity and kept herself upright without our help. But her method of learning involved skating as fast as she could until she a) fell, b) ran into the wall of the rink, or c) was caught by her vigilant mommy or daddy.

Several times, we watched her legs and arms flail wildly, searching desperately for equilibrium. Occasionally, she found it. "Nice spin, Abby!" Josh would joke with a smile. Abby's eyes would twinkle.

Most of the time, she went down.

Remarkably, she'd right herself and skate on each and every time she fell, often back on her blades within a matter of seconds. Down, up, down, up, down, up. I could practically hear her quads groan as she pushed herself to standing again. And again. Though her clothes were soaked through and her body battered, she smiled with pride each time I caught her eye. Abby paid no attention to fatigue. Only once did she agree to a break, and even that was short-lived. Tenacity ruled.

We've seen her apply this same persistence to gymnastics. Anytime we find ourselves in a park or yard with enough space, we watch her do cartwheel after cartwheel, hand stand after hand stand, determined to master the skill no matter how many times she lands on her shoulder or back or head, no matter how tired her weary arms are.

In class, we see her practice whatever skill they give her with an absolute commitment to mastery. She probably completes twice as many reps as the other kids, because she begins the task again the moment she finishes the first attempt. No matter what they have her doing--hopping across the balance beam, swinging on the bar, flipping into the foam pit, kicking into handstands against the wall--she executes her move over and over with the work ethic of a true athlete.

And her persistence has paid off. Her cartwheels look like actual cartwheels now. When she kicks her legs up into a handstand, she gets her whole body straight and stiff, even holding it for a second on her best attempts.

This girl was born with discipline: disregard pain, disregard failure, disregard everything but mastery. 

When we climbed back into the car two hours after beginning our icecapades, Abby's nerve endings finally caught up to her. "My body hurts," she told us, not whining so much as observing a now overwhelming fact. 

We gladly spent the rest of the evening snuggled up on the couch in our pajamas, watching a movie. Before bed, I read to her while she soaked in a warm bath to ease the soreness in her muscles.

She inspires me. She's conquering ice and gravity. What's next?

Whatever it is, Josh and I will be there cheering her on...and drawing a warm bath after.

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