It was this last Sunday and I was struck speechless, a rare occasion for me. It was our team banquet and after dinner the girls had a few presentations to make. They honored each other with gag gifts, I was even given the best hair award (nice!). They honored their parents for their support and they honored our one graduating senior: Hannah. Then they presented one more thing, that’s when I became speechless, I think I was too busy trying not to cry.
But let’s go back. I have a wonderful girl on my team named Mari Schroeder. She has always been a natural team leader and has been at Gymfinity, off and on, since she was a little girl. Mari is not only an exceptional gymnast, a scholar and a leader, but Mari has learned Chinese, learned guitar and is a very community service oriented young woman. this year Mari organized a campaign that our teams from high levels to beginner, gymnastics and Trampoline & Tumbling all together, took part in. A few months back Mari asked me for a picture of my nephew, Kieran she said it was for a school project. Kieran had a pretty traumatic birth story: deprived of oxygen for nearly 20 minutes this little boy came into the world immediately having to fight for his life, that was February 9th, 2009. Today there are some developmental delays and physical challenges, he has been diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy but Kieran is learning and growing and gets stronger every day. Way back then, when Kieran was born, I flew out to L.A. to be there for my brother and sister-in-law. Being there meant that I missed coaching a meet with my team, but my wife Stephanie and co-coach Matt, stepped in and took the team. Everyone there was very concerned while I was away. They never met Kieran, or even his parents, but they worried; and that day, they opened their all ready loving hearts to my brother and his family.
The medical bills were overwhelming and my brother found himself selling his car and TV to cover the various therapies that Kieran required. I have never seen fighters like my brother E.J and his wife Rachelle. They still tirelessly research therapy options and they have tried many various methods hoping to help Kieran recover. But those therapies cost a lot of money and often involve travelling to other countries to get treatments not yet approved in the US. In fact we leave in a few days for Kiev Ukraine to have a family vacation of our own and share some time with Kieran and his family while he receives therapy there, but I digress. Long story-short: the bills piled up. We held a fund-raising event here at Gymfinity and had so many people turn out to help support this little boy that none of them ever met, we raised nearly $2000.
Now, let me tie it all together. 4 years ago we sent a nice donation to my brother to help cover some bills for Kieran. But that wasn’t good enough for Mari. She organized a campaign this year to raise money again for this boy she never met but has never forgotten. She called it Coins for Kieran, and she sent the picture I gave her of Kieran to every team family at Gymfinity. She asked that they drop any loose change into a donation jar and they responded with great kindness. My co-coach, Tracey, arranged that the kids on the optional team received awards for good skill work. “If you connect your beam flight series you win a penny.” and all the pennies became Coins for Kieran.
Did I mention that this was all done without me knowing a thing about it? In fact when Tracey asked if I wanted to do the “penny-reward” challenge on my events and I said “no.” I have always felt that hard work was it’s own reward, but little did I know that the disappointed look on the team kid’s faces was not because they wanted money but because they wanted to money for Kieran. There was a time when one of our gymnasts was working through some fear. When she competed we were not sure how she would do, if she would balk and some of the more scary skills. Tracey told her that a complete routine could net a quarter if she did it. Kacey hit that routine but before she went she noted that it was “for Kieran.” I cannot ever find words to appropriately thank Mari for all she has done to instigate this covert plan.
So there I was on Sunday night as the team presented to me a payment in the amount of $500. Pennies, Nickles and an occasional Quarter; Coins for Kieran. I was speechless. With welled up eyes I stood clumsily and thanked everyone for what was such a wonderful and unexpected gift. I stared down at my feet to avoid crying, but inside I had melted because I had never asked them, they never met him, but they all knew that they could make a difference and they did, without hesitation. I have never been so proud of a group of kids in my life and I have had teams win trophies, had gymnasts win scholarships, had champion gymnasts and champion teams; but the thing that resonates deepest with me are the things that show me my gymnasts as great people. I love the kids who love the sport. I love that they love their team and our gym, but when they show such love to others, well that’s when I love them most of all, and it’s when they render me speechless. I don’t know how many, if any, of the kids or parents of my generous team ever read this post. In fact I’m amazed that anyone reads it at all. But maybe, until I can talk about this gift without crying, the post here will convey what I feel. I am still speechless, so let me use the words of Mother Theresa who said “Love is not patronizing and charity isn’t about pity, it is about love. Charity and love are the same — with charity you give love.”
To learn more about Kieran, and maybe make a donation, please check this website.