Some people might glance at this picture taken at the last practice at Disney before The Summit and think nothing of it but I look at it and see so much...
I see a 13-year old who: stands "clean" even when the rest are relaxing; gave up her summer (trips to the beach, amusement parks, camping out) to cheer on two teams; gave up middle school sleepovers and parties so she could compete for the gym that's been her second home for five years; doesn't say much until she can't hold things in any longer; does things herself even when she's not sure what she wants to do; has become stronger both mentally and physically because she has cheer; learned at an early age that discipline, commitment and hardwork can get her to The Summit (and NCA, CHEERPORT) with a full-paid bid and be captured in this moment (by my talented friend Rina Still).
I also see a fierce competitor who, last weekend, faced an inconceivable reality.
“I’ve never come in last place before,” was the first thing Rachel said after I made my way as fast as I could through the massive crowd to meet her outside Arena South after The Summit's Large J3 awards. I didn't know what to expect from her, I just knew I had to get to her. There were no tears, only disbelief.
In reality, receiving a full-paid bid to compete in one of the largest divisions at the Summit against 23 other teams and moving on to Day 2 finals is not “last.” My daughter and her teammates represent the top 5% of Allstars in the world.
But I knew this day would come. It HAD to come.
During her first year as a Mini 1 Fierce Kidz, Rachel was on an undefeated team that would often receive Grand Champs, which was unheard of, or at least I'd never seen a mini team score higher than a senior team. “This isn’t normal! It’s just not normal!” I would say to the other parents after awards and to Rachel during the car ride home. I knew it wasn’t “normal,” to always win, because my other daughter, Becky was an Allstar for four years before she would receive a sweatshirt and title of “National Champ.” First is hard. First is rare.
But First became Rachel’s expectation during the next mini year which was nearly undefeated as was the next year when Rachel was placed on the Showstoppers, Small Youth Level 2: a competitive division that challenged the team week after week during Nationals season. By the beginning of this 2014-15 season, Rachel had won two NCA jackets, two CHEERSPORT jackets, numerous sweatshirts, backpacks, medals and rings (Last year’s Summit and a ring for the original Summit concept of “International All Levels).
But Rachel wasn’t just happy with First Place anymore. If she didn’t win Grand Champs, it wasn’t good enough for her. And her team won Grand Champs a LOT.
If you saw those jackets and other coveted rewards strewn across her bedroom floor, you wouldn’t think they were special at all. It’s not that coming in first place was easy…those kids worked harder than kids twice their age. But it's a snapshot into appreciation, and how can you really appreciate winning if you never lose?
The first slap of reality for Rachel came two years ago when her team placed second at CHEERSPORT. I thought she was taking it well until I found her medal in the hotel bathroom trash can. When and how she had pulled the medal from the ribbon I don’t know but one thing is for sure: she wanted nothing to do with it. I thought back to the first time Becky attended CHEERSPORT; instead of puling medals apart she pulled the CHEERSPORT blanket over her head, only her eyes visible, looking at me in defeat once more as she lay in the hotel bed. What Rachel was experiencing was nothing compared to that. She should be happy with placing second but all she said was, repeating Dance Mom’s Abby Lee, “Second place is the first loser.”