Andrea

The Fighter

I have wanted to put together another montage for a long time. Here it is.

I have had a lot of problems trying to share this video, but I think this will finally solve it. I hope everybody enjoys it. Please share it if you do!

More Memories

I wanted to share this video on my blog for everybody to see.

This was the routine that earned her a state title on bars. By no means was it perfect, but it helped the team win bars and helped them take second overall. I can’t remember ever being more proud of her than this day. I remember the feeling when she landed her flyaway. At the time, I choked back the emotions as each kid successfully landed. I was so proud of her and those girls for everything they did all year. I told Andrea’s mother that after I watched this video it brought all the memories back to me. All of the work we did together to get to this point.

The really sad realization that hit me at some point last night was that this was the last routine she ever competed. We finished on bars on this day. That was her last salute, the last high five that I gave her after a competition routine, and the last time she got to experience what she loved to do so much. There were many more high fives and memories in the gym and at camp after this, but this was the last time in competition. Around twelve hours before she was set to compete her first level seven routines, she was involved in the accident that took her from us all.

I am going to keep trying to acquire videos of her. I almost have enough pictures to put another montage together. To be honest… It has helped me to have the outlets that I have. The Blog, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube… I have been able to memorialize Andrea for myself and everybody else and it makes me feel so much better to be able to do that.

Perspective

I want to share something with everybody. Friday, November 18th, 2011 started like any other day for me. There was nothing particularly special about my morning and early afternoon. I remember that I drove to work alone because my fiancé rode to work with her mother early that day. They were cleaning and setting up for the in house meet we were going to have the next morning. I had grabbed Red Bull and had my music blaring in the car. Work was normal on this day, except I had my two level nines come in because they had missed a day earlier in the week. All the gymnasts did pretty well and I did a private with a little one afterwards.

We got in the car and headed back home. My fiancé and I got sushi, which we both love and don’t eat very often. When we got home our favorite show, Fringe, was on the television. I posted to Facebook, “Sushi, Fringe, my warm house, and my beautiful fiancé. Content.” The day was a good day. I love Red Bull and I love blaring my music in the car as well. I was completely happy and content with my life. I had everything I could ask for in life.

I got a text message a little bit later in the night. It said, “Did you hear about Andrea?” I replied that I had not and I asked what happened. A few minutes later I received a call. The voice on the phone said. “Andrea was in an accident… … She didn’t make it.” I will never forget this moment in my life. I will never forget my thoughts, my feelings, or any detail of this exactly moment in time. It is burned so brightly into my mind that there is no way I could ever forget it. The sniffles that I heard on the line, the long pause in between the two sentences, the look on my fiancé’s face, and the reaction I witnessed are all so vivid.

I turned to Facebook, like I usually do. A quick note on this before I continue with my story. I watched a video about social networking sites that changed my perspective on them. What happens to your Facebook or Twitter when you are dead? What will it reflect? I have come to view these as kind of the story of my life and not just a way to keep up on gossip. This, sadly, has been proven by the Facebook page of Andrea Bailes. Back on track, my next post read, “I feel like I am going to puke. This is something I never wanted to experience in my career as a coach. I am numb. I can’t believe this happened to one of the most amazing girls I have had the pleasure of knowing.”

The point of this story is perspective. Friday, November 18th, 2011 was a wonderful day and I was so happy with where my life was and where it seemed to be heading. In the blink of an eye my entire life changed, as did the lives of many others. I will never be the same. In the past four weeks I have learned more about life than in almost twenty-five years of life.

I have done the most difficult things in the past four weeks that I have ever done in my life. I have had to tell little children their friend was dead. I spent about four hours typing up the post about Andrea, which was much more difficult than anything I have ever done. I had to carry her casket. Most recently I had to coach a level seven session without her. All of this has changed me, especially as a coach.

Life is fragile, precious, and short. In an instant your whole world can be flipped upside down. Count your blessings and make the best of everything that you do.

A Small Reminder

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It has been almost exactly one week since Andrea Bailes lost her life. Right now the memories and emotions are still burning strong and bright. I know that eventually they will fade. I wanted something I could see every day and remind me of Andrea and all that was so great about her. I plan on getting another tattoo eventually to remind me of the key things that were so amazing about her that I always want to remember and take with me through my life. It is possible that I will expand upon this one also, but for now it is perfect. And beautiful, I think.

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

After a somewhat successful day in the gym on Monday, I was now faced with Tuesday. I was honored to receive a call several days before, asking me to carry Andrea Bailes’ casket. Andrea’s mother said, “You carried her for years. I trust you to carry her now more than anybody.” When I first heard these words, I choked back tears and told Deana that I would gladly carry Andrea.

Now… I think about this. No parent should ever have to bury their child, especially because of some drunk driver with almost fifty charges, ranging from domestic violence to drunk driving. I never thought I would have to bury an athlete and I hope I never have to bury a child.

I am charged with the difficult, but necessary, task of carrying the casket of a fourteen year old athlete that I cared deeply for. My emotions range from honor, rage, sadness, pride, and many more in between all of those.

I have carried this child in the past. I vaguely recall having to carry her, much to her dislike, off of our gym floor after some small injuries. I had picked her up and put her on my shoulder more times than I could count. I had wrestled and fought with this obstinate girl on repeated occasions. I constantly gave her high fives and knuckle bumps, as well as love taps and soft kicks in the butt. But I had never thought about having to carry her in a casket.

On top of my duties, I think that I might talk with another television station about Andrea. The first one wasn’t easy and I am sure that the second interview will be just as difficult. As well as all of this, I have all the other team girls that I need to watch after. I am sure that tomorrow will be the most difficult for the young ones that loved Andrea. They have no real perspective on situations like this.

As hard as tomorrow might be on me, I have to be strong. I know that there are thousands of people that have been blessed by my memories of Andrea and that gives me strength. We will see how tomorrow plays out. Hopefully tomorrow will end with all of Andrea’s current and former team mates hanging out and playing in the gym.

Again, I wouldn’t be able to be strong and lead these kids if it weren’t for all of the amazing people that have sent me texts, comments, messages, posts, shares, and everything else. You are filling the huge hole that was left with Andrea Bailes’ passing. I have to thank you all again.

I will update things tomorrow as soon as I can.

First Day Back

The first day back in the gym was hard, but good. It started early for me. I went to the gym to meet with a television news reporter so I could be interviewed about Andrea. It was difficult to talk about her so openly and especially on camera. I took a deep breath and reminded myself that I was telling the reporter about the girl I loved so much. It made it easier. An old friend walked into the gym just as we were about to start the interview. I got up and gave her a hug and talked for a little bit and then sat back down and started to talk about Andrea. I had to keep reminding myself to breath deeply and focus on keeping my composure, even though I knew it could be edited. Always the perfectionist, sadly. For some reason I couldn’t get my right foot to stop shaking. It kept bouncing around uncontrollably. I tried my best to tell everything I could about her that made her so special, but I am sure I didn’t get it all out. I wish I had more time with the reporter to try to get everything out that I could remember. All in all… I feel like I did an okay job for my first on camera interview. I just wish it was for something other than the death of an amazing child with a bright future. I just received a text message from a parent telling me that I did well in the interview. Not that it matters in the grande scheme of things, but I am glad I didn’t look like a retard.

I had some time in between the interview and the beginning of my work. I spent the hour slowly going around the gym and making sure everything was in it’s place. My mom taught me, “A place for everything, and everything in its place.” I take that to the gym everyday. I usually take about 30 minutes to organize the gym, but I wanted to move slower today because I had more time and I wanted to think. I spent my time reflecting on all of the wonderful qualities that Andrea exhibited that I wanted to make sure that I also showed to the kids. Another quick side note, behavior can be changed. It takes conscious effort and attention to what you are doing at all times to change it. People don’t like change because it is uncomfortable. I constantly tell the kids that when they do something new or different, it will feel weird. I didn’t have to make huge changes, but they still took some conscious effort for me.

I had two privates. Both young level fives. One of them looked up to Andrea for everything and the other one did as well, but was also very emotional. I told the first one that we were not going to do any gymnastics until she talked to me. We sat and talked for a little while about Andrea and how to move on. There were some tears shed but after we finished talking the first little one did an awesome job. The same interaction happened with the second little girl and similar results. As I was talking and watching the second little girl the other girls started to filter into the gym. I took the opportunity to talk to them and remind them that I would be there for anything they needed.

I finished up with my second private lesson and almost all of the kids were in the gym. A couple walked in right on time. I had already gathered the girls together and was going to start talking to them, but I waited for the others. I talked to them about Andrea for a little bit. I told them that I wasn’t healed or completely whole, but I was much happier because I had spent the whole weekend trying to make sure that everybody knew about Andrea and how amazing she was. For me, it made it easier to know that she had touched many other lives besides the ones in the gym. I told the kids that 11,000 people had read about Andrea. They didn’t seem to comprehend this, but it made my heart swell with pride. She was absolutely amazing and there were at least 11,000 people that knew it. I went on to quickly talk to them about remembering her and honoring her. We talked about keeping her in our hearts and minds. We talked about working as hard as she did, focusing as well as her, and trying to be the best that we could possibly be. The girls got emotional a little, but managed to keep it together quite well. I gave them a reduced warm up assignment and they got to it.

When they got finished with their warm ups I told them how my day went. I don’t normally do this, but it had to do with Andrea. I didn’t want to get up and go run. I didn’t want to run as far as I did. I decided that if Andrea knew I was being a wimp that she wouldn’t approve. I dragged myself to the gym and began to run. I wanted to quit early but I kept thinking that she wouldn’t stop until I told her it was okay to stop. I kept running because that is what she would do. I reminded the girls again that the best way to remember and honor Andrea was to make sure we exhibited the qualities that she did. I began to stretch the girls out after our warm up and they paid very good attention. As we finished stretching, I sent the girls to their first events. Things started well and continually improved throughout the first rotation. A couple hiccups for me. One little girl who decided she didn’t care about making improvements and doing what she asked continued to frustrate me. One other girl had done a great job for most of the bar workout and she took her last turn of the night. She was a little more aggressive than normal and ended up peeling off the high bar in a back swing. Her leg hit the low bar and she could have flipped over to her back, but she tried to stop herself and put her arm out. I believe this is a normal human reaction, but in gymnastics you shouldn’t try to stop a flip once you have started it, in general. She hadn’t started the flip on purpose because she had peeled and she flipped over more after contacting the low bar. Again…. she should have flipped on over but she tried to stop herself and extended her arm. The elbow completely dislocated.

I have seen a couple disgusting injuries in the past few years, but this one was pretty gross. The elbow dislocated completely. I could see a bone pushing very hard against her skin. Thank God it didn’t push out. As she hit the ground I thought… Okay she is good. After she completed her crash landing I saw her elbow and so did she. She let out an awful scream. I ran over and told her to look at me and to breath. She did a wonderful job of listening. She was a trooper. We ended up having to call the EMS because I was worried about damaging her arm further by moving her ourselves.

Several minutes later, the EMS came and got her. The kids finished their bar workout on one bar and then we switched rotations. The next group came over and started their bar workout as the injured girl was being taken out of the gym. I told the girls to let the injured one know that they all loved her. She gave us the thumbs up and a smile as she left the gym. The rest of the workout went pretty well. The optional bars improved and vault was alright.

After we finished our daily rotations, the girls came back over to me to get their strength assignments. Instead of strength I showed them the video montage I had made of Andrea. I shared some comments and texts that I had received as well. I told them again that I wasn’t healed or complete and that I felt like there was a hole in me still, but I felt so much better knowing that there were so many people knew about Andrea now. There were many tears shed in this short time. I told the kids that now the fun part began. They had to do some strength. We did a quick ten minutes of strength work (way less than normal) and then the kids went to stretch.

After they finished stretching, we talked again briefly about a few different things. The main topic was Tuesday morning and afternoon. All of these girls were going to have to be at the viewing and funeral of a friend, team mate, and sister. I told them that it was going to be hard as hell, no matter what. I told them that I would be there for them for whatever they needed and that they shouldn’t hesitate to ask me or anybody else. I finished by telling them all that I loved them and that they should never forget that and then I sent them on their way.

On their way was not very far, because two of the girls had a birthday on this night. They all had ice cream cake and hung out for a while. All in all… For the first day back ofter a terrible tragedy, tonight was great. The two black spots were one kid not giving full effort and the dislocated elbow. I learned about this time that the dislocated elbow would also require surgery because of a chip/break in a bone. Sad news. I wish I could have anticipated and/prevented this, but things happen in the gym.

The Point

The following message was sent to me on Facebook from a young friend in Canada. While reading it, tears rolled down my face and continued for quite some time. I couldn’t help but think… He got it. He got the message I was trying to spread. I received many messages like this, and I might share them in the future as well, but I thought that this one was important to get out to everybody quickly.

The message read:

Matt,

Never give up – because from the sound of it, Andrea wouldn’t have either.

A girl I’ve never heard of, never met; affected my life today. She sounds like that shinning star everyone strives for or wishes to be. A great friend, a good role model, along with a little stubbornness and attitude that makes you smile even more.

Not many people in this world are blessed or lucky enough to find that star. And those who do find it ..and lose it..

…one of the hardest things in life to bare.

But we can’t give up.

This too has been the hardest year of my short life so far..

A few months ago a dear friend of mine lost her best friend (practically a sister) in a car accident as well. I could not even come close to understanding the pain she was going through. We spoke the same words as you, “live for her”.

On Thursday September 22nd, I was hit by a car crossing the street on my way to gym. I’ve spent the last 7.5 weeks living at the hospital. I suffered multiple injuries including sever head trauma. There was a chance I would not be able to mentally function properly again or return to coaching.

I was scared. It seemed like all those, most important in my life would be taken away – MY shining stars. Every night I cried myself to sleep thinking I would never be able to be with these amazing children again. Be there to watch them grow. Be part of their success’ and failures. 

But every morning I made it my sole focus to get better. To enjoy every part of life and to live each day as if they were right there with me. I learned to appreciate things much more. I prayed – and it kept me alive.

I’m not saying our situations are in any way the same. I don’t know what I would do if I ever lost one of my athletes – it would be the death of me.

I’m just saying stay strong! 

Wake up every morning and make it your mission to live a great life! Like you said, for Andrea.

Live like Andrea.. ..each day.
Never give up. Smile. Make people laugh. Kick their butts when they need it and cheer for others even when you’re not getting any medals yourself. Keep her spirit alive. You’ll do that by continuing being a great coach.

I believe if you live like that, you’ll be living for her. She’ll be living in you, in you’re heart and mind and her star will keep on shining.

Andrea’s story has touched me. Andrea, her friends and family and you are in my prayers – sending you all the strength I have. 

I will share Andrea’s story along, hopping she’ll affect more people lives.

 

All of the messages, like this one, are what have given me the strength to keep focused on what I felt needed to be done for this wonderful child. All of the support has been overwhelming and I can’t thank everybody enough. It isn’t like I have done anything difficult, but I received a message when I woke up this morning that made it all worth it.

The message read:

Matt,
Words can’t express how thankful I am for everything you are doing for my baby girl. There’s no better gym family anywhere. For everything you did/do for her, I am forever grateful. I am finding some comfort knowing that she has touched more people in her short 14 years than most people touch in their whole lives. I feel God puts everyone in our lives for a reason….her reason was to show us how to really live. Her strength will get us through, I know it. Again, thank you & Dory for loving my daughter.

Your family,
Deana

 

Let’s make sure that we continue to show support to the people who really need it, Andrea’s family, friends, and team mates.