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Between the Bars

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Coach Valorie Kondos Field provides an update after the home opener.

March 21, 2008

In our last Q&A, I was asked what I had learned these past four years. I believe the question was asked because from 2000 to 2004 we won four out of five NCAA Team Championships, and these past four seasons, we've had some frustrating setbacks.

A short recap:

2005 - Kristen Maloney's senior year; Tasha, Jordan, and Lindsey were freshmen. While we had individual performances that were brilliant, we had a few costly mistakes at the Championship which earned us a fourth place finish. Maloney won the individual vault and balance beam title, and Tasha was the freshman phenom, winning the all-around title.

2006 - What a year! We had 13 student-athletes on our team. As I described it, 12 out of 13 of our athletes went in for their 50,000 mile check up that season. All 12 of them had some sort of arthroscopic clean-out, or chronic pain from the years of gymnastics they had endured. It felt like we never got out of second gear that season. It was the second time in UCLA history that we didn't qualify a team to the NCAA Championships. Again, we had some individual greatness, as Kristina Comforte earned two All-America honors as a freshman, and Kate Richardson captured the hearts of all collegiate gymnastics fans with her floor routine, winning the individual NCAA floor title.

2007 - Getting a bit healthier. Last season was extremely rewarding for us. It was a classic experience of determining our success by acquiring a "... peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing we did our best to become the best that we were capable of becoming." Early on in the fall, we lost Brittani McCullough for the season when she ruptured her big toe tendon in a car accident. And in February, Kristina had to sit out the rest of the season when we found out that she had been training and competing on a fractured foot for four years ... that's one tough athlete!

Starting with our last home meet, our team became the "little engine that could". We beat Georgia in Pauley by a smidgen. We didn't give up fighting until the proverbial Fat Lady sang the UCLA Fight Song! We went on to win Pac-10s against a really strong Pac-10 field which included Stanford, who had beaten us in two previous regular season competitions. We then went to Regionals and had to replace a few athletes at the last minute in competition yet came out the victor over a strong LSU team. We then headed into NCAAs ranked eighth, and through sheer determination and belief that we were a great team, we ended up finishing fourth. We felt like we had won the National Championship title.

2008 - We started off with a TON of potential, but as the Gymnastics Furies would have it, we've been hit with a few key injuries the past two months. Brittani just had surgery on her Achilles and is doing well. And Anna and Kristina are on track to HOPEFULLY be back in at least three events for our Championship season.

So - the question begs, what have I learned? I've learned that Athletics imitates Life. I've learned that it's really important in Life to truly appreciate the easy, bright and colorful days - the days where most everything runs smoothly and little snippets of fun and random acts of kindness illuminate the day with brilliant color. It's important to enumerate blessings - and not just the same ones over and over, but to examine all of the itsy, inconspicuous, unobtrusive blessings that I so often take for granted. AND, most importantly, to be able to remember and embrace all of this when it feels like I'm getting pummeled with rotten luck. Regardless of how frustrating or sad some days may feel, through those times we have all acquired indelible memories that have strengthened us, urged us to grow closer, humbled us, and encouraged us to revel in daily small victories. Making the choice to recognize, embrace and truly appreciate the splashes of color during each day that make us feel good keeps us in balance; so the tough times don't seem too dark and the good times are appreciated with grace and aplomb.

I have also felt the gratitude of what it means to have earnest fans who ride the rollercoaster of Life with us and don't jump off to the next ride when things get bumpy. Thank you.

~miss val


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