For love of the sport
One night, three of Haley's gymnasts watch their coach and realize that while you may give up the sport, you never give up the love for it.
After helping with the championship revolt in 2006, Haley had gone on to perform in college. While there she had rediscovered her love for the sport of gymnastics. She had trained with Burt until her official retirement in 2015.
Her retirement had been brought on by as fate would decide it, a blown knee. She and Burt had laughed about it in the hospital after her surgery. At the time she had been determined to get back to performing. The doctors had gone along with her decision, humoring her, as Burt had put it. After months of therapy and slow training she once again set foot on a competition floor.
While there she gave what some said was the best performance of her life. But she had disagreed. Her gut told her what her heart had fought against during her re-training. It was over. As she saluted the judges after her floor routine tears filled her eyes. Everyone watched confused as she walked to her coach and fell into his arms in a fit of sobs and tears.
In that moment he knew. They both knew. She was done.
Now five years later she was a coach working for the very coach that had helped her rediscover her love of the sport. Now she was in charge of the elite gymnasts who would be competing for a slot at worlds.
Though they knew she was one of the best, sometimes her athletes had trouble seeing how someone who had been out of the game for so long knew what they were going through.
Sure she was still in shape. She still had rips on rips, as she said. But not once had they seen her set foot on a vault, bars, beam or the floor matt. All her lessons were verbal and though they wanted to, they didn't dare challenge her.
"Pointed feet Mary!" Haley yelled to the girl on the beam. Mary nodded and looked down, concentrating on her feet.
Haley turned her attention to the vault where Jamie was running full speed. She watched as she jumped and sprung off the vault, landing a double. "Good Jamie, but you're fish tailing at the very end, keep your arms tucked in till the last second." Jamie nodded as she headed to get some water.
The last was Nancy who was working on the bars. Haley watched as she swung herself up over the beam and held herself in a handstand for a few seconds before releasing and falling down to the catch the lower bar. There she swung herself over twice before dismounting. After saluting, she turned to look at her coach, who nodded. "Give it a few more seconds on the hand stand." Haley said.
A few hours later she called her girls over. Sweaty and out of breathe, they sat down in front of her. "You girls worked hard today, I'm proud of you. Go get cleaned up and get some rest." They all nodded as they stood, making their way to their stuff. "Nancy, ice bath," Haley called out. "Your abs will thank you, trust me." Nancy nodded and left with her fellow team mates.
Back at the athlete house, the girls dropped their stuff on the floor and made their way to the kitchen.
"God I'm so sore…" Jamie complained as Nancy hoisted herself up onto the counter.
"At least your hands are the same texture," Nancy muttered and took the pint of ice cream Mary handed her.
"God, how can you eat that?" Jamie exclaimed in horror as Mary laughed.
"Hey, you have to indulge every once in awhile. Besides," Nancy paused to lick the spoon. "Chocolate gives you energy."
"It also makes you fat," Jamie snapped.
"Oh come on," Mary said as she took the pint from Nancy, shoving it back in the freezer. "You've seen how Coach eats and she's just about as fit as us, if not more."
"Yeah, I've never been able to figure that out," Nancy said. "The only thing she does is watch and yells. How does she do it?"
Jamie shrugged. "She's a legend, she doesn't need any excuse. I just know that I would kill for her experience."
"Well, that's why we're here, to learn from the best." Mary said.
"Speaking of learning," Nancy said as she lowered herself off the counter, "I think I have to agree with her orders on an ice bath. It's sounding pretty good right now." Her friends watched as she walked to the closet to grab the ice bag.
"Do we have to?" Jamie wined and Mary rolled her eyes.
"Yes we do, come on." Mary gave Jamie her hand, pulling her off the floor and they followed Nancy back to the main gym to help her with the ice.
The lights in the gym were down low, making most of the building dark. But the girls didn't mind. They had been living at VGA long enough that they knew their way around, even in the dark. But before they could reach the kitchen they heard something that made them stop.
"Is that…music?" Nancy asked, looking confused. Jamie shrugged her shoulders as Mary looked around.
"It's coming from the gym." Jamie said, starting to lead the way.
"What you wanna bet the freshmen left the radio on?" Mary asked, sighing impatiently. Nancy nodded and began to open the door but stopped.
"What?" Jamie hissed, also impatient.
"Guys…it's not the freshmen…" Nancy trailed off.
"Well, what is it?" Mary asked, looking over Nancy's shoulder.
"It's Haley." Nancy said and the other two looked over her shoulder to discover she was right.
Though dimly lit, the three girls could easily see their coach in the big gym. She was dressed in a lime green leo and was bent down dusting chalk onto her hands. She stood, rolling her shoulders then her neck.
"What's she doing?" Jamie whispered and the other two hushed her.
"Is she doing what I think she's doing?" Mary whispered. A moment later they received their answer.
Eyes wide they watched as Haley did a salute then ran two feet and did a floor vault. She twirled in the air twice before handing on her feet. Trusting her hands into the air she went down in a set of splits then swung her leg around, pushing herself up and did a floor spin. The three of them continued watching as she did more twirls and twists before stopping and giving another salute.
Dusting her hands she made her way to the radio and changed it to a classical station. The girls watched as Haley walked over to the beam. After doing another salute she slid her hands down the beam, almost as if she was trying to remember something from a long time ago. Then, with out warning, she hoisted herself up onto the beam.
She started out with a series of hand movements before doing a double jump and a split. Then she swung herself over the beam, letting her legs hang down and then slowly raised herself up.
In an interview from years previous, Haley Graham had once said that she had three defining moments in her life. Walking out of worlds, her beam performance at classics and her floor performance at championships. Walking out of worlds was the low point in her life. In that moment everything had come crashing down and she did the one thing anyone would due under pressure, she broke. Her performance on beam at the classic was her starting to realize that if she was going to push, the world was simply going to push back harder. She had cried during that performance. It had taken her a year since her walking out on worlds, but she had finally cried. People also said that that particular performance was one of the best, because it was the most emotional. For Haley it wasn't the best, it was a wakeup call. Last, her floor performance at championships was her way of telling the world that she had once again arrived and was here to stay.
Now as her athletes watched her perform the same beam routine from the 2006 classic, they realized what it was all about. For their coach it wasn't about how she had been the best and had gone through hell to get back on the top. To her it wasn't about the medals or the awards. It wasn't about the fame.
It was about having love for your sport. Enough love that even when you were a retired elite gymnast with a blown knee, you could still put on a leo and perform so well that it brought the past back to you.
The three girls watched as Haley did one last move on the beam and raised herself up. Then, with tears in her eyes, she saluted.