Somber yet Uplifting, Rewarding yet Frustrating

In the past five years, I have never missed blogging before my final exams. I believe it’s a time of year where it is especially important to take time to reflect, and as easy as it would be to ignore blogging and keep cramming for my exam tomorrow, it’s probably about time I found my way back to The Life of Pinya.

Finals week is never smooth sailing, but this past week has been particularly rough with a whirlwind of emotions.

A week ago today my uncle passed away. Technically he was my great great uncle, but with the way generations work out in my family, everyone just called him Uncle Early. I’m honestly still a bit in disbelief that he passed, even just writing this paragraph in the past tense is kind of surreal. It was a shock to everyone. He was only in his mid-70s and in good health. Just a few weeks ago he was crushing it on the dance floor at his daughter’s wedding and every year he’d still challenge me to a fried chicken eating contest at our family reunion. Then two weeks ago he had a stroke.

He has to have immediate brain surgery, but things were still looking good. He was recovering so well; the last time I went into the hospital his temperature had just come back to normal, the nurses completely took him off of one of the painkillers, and he got rid of the case of strep he caught. Then they found something else in his brain. To be honest, I still am not clear on the details, but he died later that night while I was at the gym coaching.

My Uncle Early was a great man. Perhaps he had a bit of a cynical humor from time to time, like when he called a baby a “chubby little porker,” but he was good-hearted and everyone always admired how he brought people together. As one of my relatives put it, our family is comprised of a lot of halves and quarters and all sorts of combinations, and Uncle Early was one of those people who connects everyone. At his memorial service this past weekend, one of his daughters told us how on the notes in his phone was a list of all the Christmas presents he was going to buy for the people in the apartment in NYC he and his wife lived at once a month and another list of plans for their next family vacation for Summer 2019. It really made me realize just how much he was constantly thinking ahead and thinking of others.

Unfortunately, I didn’t see Uncle Early all that often despite the fact that we were in the same city. We mostly talked at our annual family reunion and the occasional family gathering for birthdays and weddings. Two summers ago my grandma and I also got to spend a week with him and his immediate family at a villa in Italy which was an amazing time. I think his passing made a lot of my family realize how silly it is that we don’t stay better in touch, and now more than ever it’s important to actively work to be together with our main connector gone.

And while you may think that having a family member pass away in the middle of final exams is already emotionally draining, my week only continued to get mind-boggling. On top of my uncle passing away and all of our family coming in town, we also had our first gymnastics meet of the season this past weekend. Thus I spent a good portion of the week in the gym for extra last-minute practices trying to get all of our girls prepared for the meet and the gym ready for us to host. And this only became more challenging once it was official that my uncle’s memorial service would be held in the middle of the time our meet was scheduled for. My mom, sister, and I were all supposed to be working at all three sessions Sunday, and thus when the memorial was planned we then had an extra stressor of trying to figure out how we would cover all three of us not being at the meet – there were a lot of phone calls to old coaches and having to explain to our girls why they would have to have a coach they hardly work with at their first meet.

I’m not going to lie, I was a little disappointed to not be able to be at the meet. It’s my first year being an official team coach in terms of actually having a set schedule where I’m the main coach for our youngest girls, so I was kind of looking forward to seeing them compete. Plus I felt bad for them because a competition is already so nerve-racking and I can only imagine what it would be like to then not have your main coach there with you. Not to mention it was the very first gym meet ever for most of my girls as they are on our lowest level of team so they’re mostly newbies to the competition world. I’m proud to say that from what I’ve heard they all had a pretty solid first meet, though a part of me still wishes I could have been there.

I was back at the meet though right after the service because to add another level to this past weekend, not only was I scheduled to coach, I was also scheduled to perform at the meet with my acro partner. While some may say they couldn’t even imagine performing after a memorial service, I’m a big believer in the saying, “The show must go on,” and it was making me more anxious and harder to contain emotions to even think about not performing when I knew I could make it work.

Despite what her mom may have said, I couldn’t bear to think about letting my partner down by not performing because acro isn’t the kind of thing someone can just come in to “fill in” for – if one partner is out, then no one performs. Plus we were both so excited though to show off our new skills and the fact that we finally got everything needed to be an official level 8 pair! (Well officially level 8 besides my tumbling which was a whole other stressor this past week of trying to work past my fear of back tucks while also dealing with my hurt wrists preventing me from other options…) Not to mention, I’m studying abroad over the summer and will miss our in-house meet in the spring, so I’m really not sure when our next performance will be which made me especially upset about potentially missing this showcase.

And I think it’s what my uncle would’ve wanted as well. I mean even his own service ended with a party in his honor because that’s the kind of person he was – someone who loved to bring people together for a good time. So my mom braided my hair in the bathroom after the service and I got in an uber and rushed back to the gym. My partner and I had not had the greatest of practices leading up to the meet, and to be honest for one of our routines we had only ever done it successfully with all of the skills once before the show. So besides all the other emotions, I was not in my most calm state rushing into the gym for a quick warm up before performing.

Somehow, thankfully, our performance actually went as good as we could’ve expected! My tumbling was awful, but we made every skill which for this point in the season is good enough for me!

Then Monday came and the whole “it’s the middle of finals week” officially hit me… Between coaching, spending time with family, seeing shows (like my high school director’s annual one-man version of A Christmas Carol, which I hope to never miss, and Elf the Musical – both full of great and much needed holiday spirit), and just trying to stay calm, it was maybe too easy to procrastinate school work…

So now these past few days I’ve been working hard finishing projects, portfolios, and taking tests all the while studying for my one in person exam tomorrow morning before I’m finally done with the semester.

I know I’m a compartmentalizer when it comes to emotions, which is probably evident even in this post, and honestly, I don’t know how I would’ve gotten through this week if I wasn’t. But that’s also part of why I thought it was especially important for me to blog tonight. It’s often when we feel we have the least amount of time and/or desire to take a moment to reflect that we need to the most.

I don’t have a problem with talking to people about personal things, but it’s been exactly for that reason that instead, this has been one of those weeks where I just kind of avoided people. I knew I would naturally share with people the chaos of this week, but I wasn’t really in the mood to repeat the story so many times with each new person I ran into. That’s a bit too emotionally draining even for this compartmentalizer. The follow-up comments are just… awkward … There’s no better way to describe it personally. It’s a conversation no one knows how to have or continue or what to say or what not to say. I guess that’s just another reason it’s nice to blog- it’s a way to think without stress or interruption and get it all out there at once, not for the sake of sharing or for the desire of a response, but for the purpose of trying to help take it all in.

This week has seen it all. It’s been somber yet uplifting, rewarding yet frustrating, and a whole mix of other things I’ve yet to fully process, but I think writing some of it down might have helped a little at least to get out of my head and start to piece together just everything that happened this weekend. It’s had a bit of a sleepwalking-like feel which I’m not sure I’ve even quite shaken off yet, but “The show must go on.”

And with that, as the tradition goes:

A merry finals to all,

And to all crammers,

Good luck and good night.

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Thankful for Gymnastics

The world of gymnastics has had a lot going on in the press recently, and unfortunately, the majority is negative. The thing is though, you only ever hear about the bad stuff in the news when the truth is that I think everyone could benefit from gymnastics in their life.

I have literally grown up in the world of gymnastics. My mom was coaching while she was pregnant with me. I was taking classes by the time I was a few months old. I first crawled on a gym floor. I started competing at age 5. I had to quit competitive team due to moving but was still in a gym taking classes until we started a new team program. I started helping with coaching occasionally with birthday parties and camps by age 10. My mom then opened up her own gym and I started training in acrobatic gymnastics (versus artistic gymnastics as most people think of due to the Olympics). By age 13 I was choreographing competitive routines for other team girls and occasionally competing since I was around and kept up my skills. Since then I’ve stopped competing in artistic gymnastics, but am currently training level 8 in acrobatics and have an official coaching schedule as a team coach for our lower levels and choreographer for almost every girl on our team.

Despite several moves at a young age, changing interests, and normal growing up stuff like going to college, gymnastics has always been a part of my life. And I imagine it always will be there in some way because as an athlete, coach, and general lover of gymnastics, there’s so much I’m thankful for about gymnastics.

I’m thankful for how gymnastics has taught me to always keep brainstorming and learning from others because there are always new ways to use your resources.

I’m thankful for how gymnastics has allowed me to express my artistic side through choreographing routines and occasionally performing myself.

I’m thankful for how gymnastics has allowed me to play a role in helping kids grow up by working with them to develop their confidence and resilience as well as physical ability.

And I’m thankful for so much more because I know this sport is about more than the scandals and policy changes you might hear about in the news. It’s not even all about the metals or getting to the Olympics either.

Gymnastics at its core is about growth through movement. It’s about the process of setting goals, mastering skills, and performing at your highest caliber. It’s about balance in all senses of the word.

This past weekend I attended a camp for upper-level gymnasts and coaches which is what prompted this post on gymnastics. I appreciated the chance to listen and learn more about drills, techniques, and mindsets currently being developed in our sport. Coaching is about more than just how to teach skills, and what I find most people don’t realize is just how much time coaches spend learning and discussing sports psychology, mental health, and safety on top of the practicality of how to best teach skills. We have a duty to train kids beyond just physically but also mentally and emotionally which is a responsibility we don’t take lightly.

And on the note of mindsets, one of the biggest things I was reminded of this weekend is that in the midst of change we have to stay positive and continue to share the reasons we love what we do.

The simple truth is that a few bad apples can never describe the whole batch. Despite what the media may currently say about the world of gymnastics, there are a lot of great coaches out there doing great things for kids nationwide. And I’m thankful for those coaches and the world of gymnastics for all it has, is, and will teach me.

 

Living in the Chaos

Somehow I managed to forget to blog every night last week. Well I would typically remember, but not until it was almost 1am at which point I decided it just wasn’t going to happen.

It’s been kind of a crazy week looking back. I was at a wedding in North Carolina; ran a SlackChat for the Pioneering Education community (kind of like a Twitter chat, but on a project management platform called Slack); had my first test of the semester; performed an acro routine and had the kids I coach perform group routines I choreographed at what ended up being a huge event which ended up going well despite my stress on how they were looking up until the performance; had my first advanced tap class and got whiplash from the combo to a song from Hair the musical; joined an intermural ultimate frisbee team and won our first game; and that leads up to now pretty much.

Some weeks are just so busy you don’t always get the chance to stop and look back on all that was accomplished. There was an unusually large amount of stress and chaos last week, but looking back on it, I think everything turned out pretty well in the end.

In particular, I’m really proud of how the gymnastics performances went. The routines performed last Spring were not so great, especially compared to the year before, so I really wanted this show to be better. It was a challenge because we never really had everyone there on the same day many times between breaks and the Taylor Swift concert… So the girls maybe had 4-6 practices total with me and some were as short as under 30 minutes. Then to add to the chaos I found out on Tuesday that we had one of our top level girls hurt her arm the weekend before, so I had to fill in for her with one practice before show day to work out.

In the end, there were obviously parts that could have been more in synch (especially the endings) but the routines turned out really well under the circumstances and all of the parents and other members of the audience seemed to really enjoy them. It was also the first time in Jump Start Gym’s history that we had every team girl present at the same time for a show. It made my job so much nicer because I could choreograph for specific groups and kids without having to tweak things depending on who had to fill in from my original vision. Plus it meant we could have 4 different routines, and even though it made my life harder trying to divide my time between groups, it meant that we had a much more fulfilling show overall oppose to having to just do one routine and then basics which aren’t exciting to watch.

Sometimes the hardest expectations to live up to are your own. Not sure that these routines fully lived up to those expectations, but I was happy with how they turned out and proud of the performance from our gymnasts.

If you care to watch them, I’ve added the videos below:

Becoming Involved

This past year, and primarily these last few months, I have become more and more involved with coaching our team girls at the gym. This summer I’m going to be even more involved and it’s just been interesting to see my own progression over time as a coach.

I’ve been coaching somewhat since I was 10. At that point, I was helping mostly just with camps and birthday parties and I was also still competing myself. Then I’m not really sure of the order of what happened next. At some point, I started choreographing my own floor routines and then was asked to help teach floor routines to younger team kids, then started dreaming up some big group routines that I eventually brought to life. Then I guess I started subbing for people from time to time and then started choreographing floor routines for more team girls, and everything just kept escalating basically to the point where now I actually am being asked to work more with the younger team girls.

I got a thank you note/end of the year gift from the girl I coach/do acro with and it was really sweet (also reminded me she’s only just about 10 years old). It’s one of the few thank you notes I’ve received from a gymnast I’ve coached and it just got me thinking about how sometimes you don’t really realize when you’re slowly becoming more involved with some kind of work. The note was also a great reminder of the best part about coaching: impacting the kids.

Learn for Next Time

Thank yous, pictures, flowers, and more: #showday

Well, everything happened, no one was injured, and there was applause! Some things today looked far prettier than others, but everyone smiled, kept moving forward, and helped put on a good show; for maybe 5 practices there’s not much more you can ask for.

31956441_10156445774303552_2616326306710683648_nToday was crazy with 25 girls in two group routines and one acro routine, but we pulled it all together and I’m proud of all the girls who participated today. I guess that includes myself since I also performed a basically level 8 acro routine today and that went pretty well. I did have to straight up muscle my partner into one skill because our timing was funny, but I made sure she got up and we finished the skill which I think describes today well: just make it happen and no one will notice if it happened not as planned.

It’s honestly another good performing skill of life. Sometimes things don’t go as planned, but the key is to just make sure it goes at all. We can’t always expect perfection because that’s not realistic. We can and should strive to do our best, but most of the time there will still be something we wish we could have done better. Then there comes a choice: get stuck up on what went wrong and be upset about it, or acknowledge and analyze what happened and why in order to make a note of how to improve next time.

As I start to get my end of the semester grades back, I’ve realized the importance of trying to have the mindset of the later.

This year with routines I learned a few things from what went well and what didn’t and I think some can be applied to more than gymnastics:

  • don’t do too much all at the same time (I had learned before that acro should be spread out and made the correction and for some reason went back on it this year and learned it still doesn’t work well…)
  • take more time to understand the skill level of the performers before starting to learn the dance don’t strive for too many new things
  • if you love a routine but don’t have the people signed up you hoped for, don’t try to do the same routine with the same expectations
  • sometimes less is more; it’s okay if not every girl is in every part of a routine, people have their strengths and weaknesses
  • when levels mix they can sometimes be intimidated into being more focused which can be advantageous31944315_10156445774358552_3909090018034974720_n
  • remember camera angles and external factors that may not apply until showtime
  • sometimes performance quality needs to trump wanting to be nice/fair
  • prior level shouldn’t guarantee anything; you always have to prove yourself, you don’t just “deserve” things
  • it’s always different when everyone finally works together at the same time; more mandatory practices are necessary but scheduling in advance is key
  • don’t make assumptions/some people think differently
  • over communicating is better than confusion

Show Time

The old gang got back together today! We had a mini theater reunion with us theater alum coming back to the MVAllStars black box to see Aladdin the Musical tonight. It was great getting to see everyone tonight and even better to also get to see a great show! I miss being up on stage and working with those guys.

I loved how after the show we still went backstage and talked to everyone and helped clean up stuff; it felt like old times.

I was so proud of all of my little acrobats on stage tonight. It’s always fun to see your work being performed especially when you can tell how happy it makes the performers.

I’m hoping to have that feeling again when our gymnastics showcase performs Sunday night. Right now the groups have been looking kind of messy which is getting me nervous again about if I was too ambitious with this year’s routine.

But who knows, maybe I’m just getting anxious due to everything happening at this time of year. It’s been a high-stress time especially with now receiving final grades.

Not the Same

Since starting college, I haven’t really kept up with acro. My tops/middle all quit before the spring of my senior year, and the new girl I had for that semester wasn’t nearly as committed. However, there is now a team girl who has expressed interest in doing acro so I agreed to start working with her.

Today was our second day practicing, but really the first day was only for 30 minutes so it hardly counted. We are trying to do a routine in the showcase in a few weeks, thus we’ve had to move pretty quickly. Even though she hasn’t done acro before, as a gymnast I knew she’d pick it up fast, and in the past, I’ve become about a level 8 in acro so I decided we’d start somewhere between level 7 and 8.

I’ve loved getting back into acro, but what I didn’t expect is that my new partner is not the one struggling in this pair…

It’s easy to forget sometimes that when we get out of the practice of something that we can’t just jump right in at the same level we left off at.

I’ve taken a year off and while I’ve done some silks and dance, no two things are exactly the same, so thus today doing skills like sliding to split while holding a girl above my head was a bit harder than expected. I’m gonna be very sore tomorrow, but eventually, I’ll get back with it, at least long enough to put on a good show!

I feel like this year has been similar also with design thinking, I’ve been more in practice then I have with acro, but all year I haven’t been nearly at the same level as high school. It’s been really sad to think about, but slowly I’ve been bringing more DT into new environments so that’s been promising. More to come on that at a later time.

Something More

One of the reasons some may call me weird is because I love being busy. It turns out I’m actually more productive when I’m busy; I get so paranoid and anxious about making sure I get everything done, that I end up getting work done earlier than it’s needed.

Therefore, April is going to be a very exciting month. Today was the first week of me starting to work at the gym (Jump Start) four days a week and volunteering once a week as the acro choreographer for my high school’s production of Aladdin Jr. on top of my normal school work and activities.

As busy as my life is about to be, I’ve already been enjoying getting to work with the kids on their routines. I’ve realized this past year just how much I enjoy choreographing gymnastics routines because it’s the first year I’ve had to commit extra effort into being able to coach. Traveling back and forth from Midtown to Sandy Springs five times a week is not the most fun thing, actually, it’s kind of annoying, but getting the chance to work on these routines makes it okay.

I’ve also been more in demand then years past, with working on the Aladdin production just being one example, I also had an old team girl reach out asking me to choreograph her high school routine, and then had an interview with the Atlanta Ballet just a few weeks ago.

Before this year I never really thought about choreographing as a job, but it’s enlightening to realize little talents you have could maybe be something more.

Documenting My Work

Happy belated 4th of July! I spent this weekend with family in Tennessee and accomplished several things I’ve been working on recently: I made good progress on my 5th book of the summer, I finished choreographing more routines for next year, finished an application essay for a weekend program at a college, and I finally got all of the spring showcase routines I choreographed onto youtube!

So now I can finally upload and thus document my work on my blog (The last 5 I am in! And I know one of them has a different background, that’s because I don’t have a recording of the routine done at this meet but it’s the same routine and I still only just got it on youtube recently.):

Strengths

Anya Hailey Laten half column tuck.jpg
While this isn’t from today, this actually is a picture of me and my middle and top. (I’m the one holding the other two.) Acro rocks!

It’s acro camp week at Jump Start!!!!! I may not be great at gymnastics anymore, but I’ve loved learning acrobatics these past, as I recently discovered, about 5 years almost now.

I love having one of my groups advance over months of work so that we can increase our difficulty and work on new harder skills. But I also enjoy occasionally working in new groups or pairs, which is what acro camp week is all about!

I like working in new teams sometimes because I love seeing how different people  work together. Every person on the planet is unique in their own way and has a different personality with different talents to bring to a team. Therefore there are an infinite number of combinations of people that can create a team, and every single team will be a little different.

I think my fascination with how different people work together is my individualization strength showing; I’m pretty good at seeing the different talents of others and pairing people based on who might make a good team based on their different skill sets. I think this strength helps me also with creating choreography that’s specific to each girl for gymnastics, and for acro and group routines makes sure each girl looks good alone and as a group.

Ever since taking the Gallup’s Strength Finder quiz for ID I’ve been very intrigued by how I, and others, keep noticing our strengths showing in various aspects of our daily lives.