One of my favorite childhood gymnastics stories is about one of my strongest teammates. As young athletes sometimes we try to find an easy way to get better. We may tell little white lies or cheat on our conditioning because we believe we can still reach our goal by taking shortcuts.

As children we don’t fully understand that the only way to reach the top is to consistently work and consistently work hard. It’s not until we are older that we understand that there is no shortcuts to the top. Gymnastics conditioning is hard. Push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, sprints, rope climb, and squats are not easy for children. Especially when each conditioning skill must be done with pointed toes, straight legs, and tight bodies. In gymnastics there is no such thing as sloppy conditioning. This of course makes conditioning even more difficult. But as we all know, the more a person practices conditioning with the correct body positions, the stronger the person will become.

As a young child I hated conditioning. If we were asked to do 10 push-ups, I did 8. If we had to do pull-ups with hollow bodies, I would keep a nice hollowed body until my coach looked the other way and then I would whip up and bend my legs. I walked when I was supposed to run and I jogged when I was supposed to sprint. My thoughts were that if my coach didn’t see me cheat, then I was in the clear. Needless to say that we weren’t supposed to do what we were told just when the coach was looking, we were supposed to do what we were told so we could be stronger and better gymnasts.

All of the youngsters seemed to cheat. We would have one of our teammates on the lookout for our coach and when ever he walked around the corner, the teammate would give us a sign and we would all start conditioning the right way. We all liked to cheat, except for one…Audra Yermovsky.

Audra NEVER cheated. She always did all 10 pull-ups when she was asked. She did them with pointed toes, straight legs, and a hollow body not because anyone was looking, but because she wanted to be strong. At 11 years old, I didn’t understand. I could still tumble and flip and I cheated. So in my mind I didn’t need to do all my conditioning, I was already strong enough. It wasn’t until I turned 40 that everything made compete sense.

I was telling a group of kids I was coaching about my childhood. I told them all about doing the right thing, even when no one was looking. I told them that I thought that I didn’t need to be stronger because I already thought I was strong enough. But what if I hadn’t cheated. What if I had trained my body to be beastly strong? What if? Could I have been an even better gymnast? Could I have won GOLD? Could I have been the most famous gymnast in the world with tricks higher and more difficult than any skills performed in the past?

I told them about Audra and how she NEVER cheated. She was honest, hard working, determined, and even years and years after we quit gymnastics I still remember her pushing herself further than her body wanted. She became the strongest athlete in our gym and with her hard work and dedication, she not only looked strong, she was strong. She was my role model. I admired and respected her. I wanted to be her. I wanted to be THAT girl. Ya know the one that works harder than anyone else, the one that puts in all the work needed to win, the one that is remembered years later.

I asked my kids, “Don’t you want to be THAT girl?”

Then one of my kids turned to me and asked “Did she make the Olympics too?”

I embarrassedly replied “No.”

She quickly responded “But you made the Olympics and you cheated, so what’s your point?”

At that time, I didn’t know. My point was supposed to be to work hard and not cheat, but I had unfortunately told the kids that I cheated and I made the Olympics. So they made the connection that cheating is okay. I was perplexed. I stopped telling my Audra story for a couple years. It wasn’t until Facebook surfaced and I found Audra again that it all made sense.

Gymnastics as with all sports is supposed to teach life lessons. It is supposed to teach athletes to overcome fears, work past personal limits, understand dedication, responsibility, and work ethics. Gymnastics is supposed to train our athletes to become hard working adults that exceed all expectations. So when I found out that after gymnastics Audra graduated college with her degree in biochemistry and molecular genetics, I knew her success was no accident.

She has a super successful career and is the senior manager in her company. She also trains and competes in the insane and grueling Iron Man triathlons and best of all is happily married with two beautiful children. And I am sure that her life success has a lot to do with her conditioning.

See cheating creates a pattern of trying to get to the end without putting in the work, trying to have results without deserving them. Cheating doesn’t teach a person how to persistently push until they reach their goals.

Now at 40 I look at Audra and I think, she learned her life lesson right. She still carries on her lessons and still to this day trains and pushes herself beyond any limit, academically, physically, mentally, and personally. She started this trend in the gym but has continued it throughout her life. So what’s the point?

My point is that our lessons don’t end when gymnastics does. If we learn the right lessons we may become more successful in life then we are in sports. In life if we want to be super successful then we need to learn how to put in the work. Not only when someone is looking, but we learn to put in the work because the work is where we learn. We learn that we are stronger than we sometimes think. We learn that we can overcome things we once thought we couldn’t. We learn that short term happiness will never outlast long term strength.

The work is hard and those who will spend the time to put in the work, will get what they deserve. If we learn to condition our bodies and minds to love to work, they may take us places that we never imagined. They may take us to the Olympics, but they also may take us past the Olympics into the most successful life one could ever dream is possible.

So my point my dear children…don’t cheat yourselves out of what may be possible.