Sunday, April 27, 2014

Milestone Meet

Last season's state meet brought deep disappointment, which led to a months-long downward spiral that threatened to destroy Natalie's love for gymnastics.  Her skills regressed and at times it felt like we were riding a sinking ship.  But she conquered paralyzing fear and slowly clawed her way back, not only regaining lost ground, but culminated her season by reaching new heights.

One year ago, she was presented with the consolation prize medal that all participants that did not place at the state meet were awarded.  The morning of this year's meet, she told her dad that she was excited and nervous and that she couldn't stop thinking about that afternoon's competition.  Then she said, "I just don't want a 'thanks for coming' medal again this year."

The theme of the meet was "Girls on Fire."  The venue was terrible in terms of viewing for spectators, but the special effects and decorations were pretty cool, even if it did make the room a bit smoky.

Natalie was definitely on fire.  She did her very best and even scored personal bests on three out of four events.

Natalie has always been an amazing vaulter but it was on the beam where she made the biggest gains.  This meet marked her first ever 9 on beam when she scored a 9.175!  What a great milestone.

And perhaps an even greater milestone was achieved when she scored her first 37 all-around!  I'm not so sure any of us ever thought that possible.  But she did it and we were beside ourselves with excitement!

See that medal?  That's no 'thanks for coming' medal.  That's an official USA gymnastics medal awarded for her 5th place finish.  She looked slightly disappointed on the podium because I think she thought her score would place her higher, but she was definitely happy with her performance.  

And her team was the state championship team for the seventh year in a row!  Natalie contributed to the team score with her vault.  So fun to be a part of a winning team.

A total of 294 girls competed level 4 at the Washington state meet.  Nat was 5th in her age group but 26th of those 294.  That puts her in the top 8% of all level 4s in the state.  Wow.  And to think of all she had to overcome to arrive at that spot!  This was also a milestone meet because it was officially her last compulsory (meaning all gymnasts do the same routines) competition.  

Natalie's fire was definitely rekindled and this high is currently motivating her to acquire the new skills necessary to become an optional (meaning gymnasts do their own unique routines) gymnast.

Congrats on making this a great season, Natty.  We're so proud of you!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Happy Easter!

I woke to bright sunshine streaming through my window.  It was the perfect way to welcome Easter.  

When the kids finally rolled out of bed about an hour later, we had a little egg hunt in the backyard.  Jon decided to have them search one at a time for ten second intervals.  When the timer went off, the had to stop until their turn came around again.  It was great fun!

Away Natty speeds in a blur:

Then Lys and her untamed locks:

And finally Caleb.  Just look at that bed-head running, two eggs in each hand:

When all the eggs had been collected, they took them inside to inspect their contents.

Caleb came away with $10!

They cleaned up nicely for church.  A Handsome crew, though one among them desperately needs a haircut.  Not naming any names.

Beautiful girls in new Easter dresses:

Jon says this shot typifies them perfectly:

Alyssa deviled the eggs while Nat made Happy Easter cards for the dinner plates.  Then we stuffed our bellies with delicious food, discussing why Easter is important to us between bites.  We shared lessons learned from church meetings and blessings we enjoy because of Him.  What a splendid day.

Happy Easter!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Meet Me in Montana

What are the chances?  An eventful regional championship meet in Dad's small hometown of Helena, Montana?  We couldn't believe it either.  

The Independent Record, Helena's newspaper, reported it as the largest meet in Montana history.  And the venue (Lewis and Clark Fairgrounds) was only about a mile from Dad's childhood home, the very place where our family spends Thanksgiving every year.  Any regional championship is a big deal, but for us, this meet was an exciting homecoming.  Three of Jon's sisters traveled home to support Alyssa, and my parents also made the trek to watch her compete.

This meet conveniently fell during our spring break and we arrived in Helena on Wednesday evening.  Thursday morning, before a scheduled team workout at the meet venue, the girls went for a ride at the Great Northern carousel.  

They were the only ones there so each of them snatched the brass ring, which means a free ride.

But they would have to hold on to that free ride for later because Lys had to get to workout.  

Most teams wear matching workout leos for their regional training session.  It's tradition for our gym to give the girls a new leo just for this occasion.  (Coach Lauren made them matching bows, too.) Here are the AGC level 8-10s in their new Regionals workout leotards, getting ready for their training session:

Some fun action shots:

After workout, the girls wanted to use their free carousel rides, so Lys invited several teammates to go along.  We visit this Helena feature every time we come to town.  It was almost surreal to have so many friends from home there.  

The girls then got ready for our team dinner.  Since we were headed to Jon's stomping grounds, I thought it would be fun to arrange a dinner for Alyssa's level 9 team.  A couple of weeks before the meet, I started calling restaurants in the area.  The gathering slowly evolved and I eventually found myself planning a dinner to include all the gymnasts, some parents and coaches, too.  

I knew I wanted a location that was uniquely Helena and I happened upon Care Taker's Cabin.

The second oldest building in Helena, it was an historic cabin that has been turned into an intimate dining experience.  The restaurant holds a maximum of 35 people so our team easily filled the place.  The food was great and it turned out to be the most perfect private event.  The girls had a blast.

Team AGC--Levels 8-10
Back row from left: Nikki, Tenley, Kendal, Beth Ashley, Alexis, Savannah, Ali and Kayla
Front row from left: Shilese, Emily, Gracie, Sam, Maison, Emily, Alyssa and Karlei  
Not pictured: Haley

I got little notebooks for each of the girls to write good luck notes to each other.

The set-up could not have been more perfect.  The girls had this little room of the cabin all to themselves and the adults had a small room just through that doorway on the left:

On Friday morning, the competitions began.  First up was the level 8 team competition.  At level 8 only, the top eight scorers from each of the six states representing region 2 come together for a fun and rather raucous showdown.  Two level 8's from AGC were on Team Washington.  As spectators, we were encouraged to wear Seahawks gear.

The gymnasts wore the most adorable Seahawks-inspired leos and carried Seahawks logos during their march-in.  The meet is run in college format, which means scores are a bit inflated.  But both AGC girls did really well and little Karlei even earned a 10.0 on beam and floor.  She was amazing!!

Team Washington won handily and then it was time for the serious competitions to start.  After a quick bite at Staggering Ox, the girls had fun decorating cars to show team pride.

Then we went back to the meet venue to cheer on our level 10's.  All the while, Natalie and Caleb were playing with their Canadian cousins who had come to visit and watch Lys compete for the very first time.  My kids adore their cousins and they were the perfect distraction from so much gymnastics.

Alyssa competed on Saturday.  She's never entirely forthright with her emotions so it was impossible to tell how she was feeling as her competition was getting ready to begin.  If she was the slightest bit nervous, her typical cover-up masked it perfectly.  I, on the other hand, was nearly physically ill.  

She had a large group of supporters in the stands and I hoped she'd be able to perform her very best.  Also, I desperately hoped she would be able to qualify for her very first Western Championships--which is the next and final step in a season for a level 9 gymnast.

Lys got to hold the Washington banner for march-in:

She had a great meet!  She went 4/4, hitting all her routines.  I love watching her do her thing.

Her all-around score--a season high--and 5th place all-around finish easily qualified her for Westerns.  There she will meet the top level 9 gymnasts from the Western side of the United States.  She got fitted for a Region 2 leotard and warm-ups that she will wear for the competition.  She also received a new backpack, t-shirt, shorts and some headbands.  Exciting stuff!

Helena holds lots of memories for our family.  Now we've added a few gymnastics ones to the mix.  This will likely be the only time in her gymnastics career that she will compete in Montana.  How special that it was in Dad's hometown!

Congratulations, Lys!  We're unbelievably proud of you!