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  • The air stood idly in the room; it had its usual chalky flavor with a tinge of stale children's feet. The glaring afternoon sun beating through the windows only helped to magnify the intensity of the warm musk emanating from the stack of brightly colored gym mats basking across the floor. I stood in the room quietly observing and for the first time pondering what is it that makes this place my comfort space. I had trained in this gym for over 8 years of my life but I never had the opportunity to indulge in the space in this way. I took a deep breathe and as the tiny white chalk particles filled my lungs, my spirit began to sink into a very familiar place. For a split second I was absorbing everything in the atmosphere and using all my senses to take in the remaining time I had left in this wonderful room. It was quiet. It was personal. It was...

    "KYSON! Watch me, I'm going to take a turn now!"

    ...interrupted.

    I blinked and refocused my diverted attention back to the kids I was coaching for the past hour. A moment of reflection was sharply taken back to reality by the high shrill of young Peter's voice.

    "How was that?", he questioned already knowing my answer.

    "You need to extend your toes out further towards the ground before you bring them back up to the bar. Then pull on the bar as your body is swinging up. Then you will be able to make the skill."

    "Okay," he said dismissively with half of his attention on my correction and half of his attention on running back to his teammates for a premature victory high five.

    That day, four of my students showed up for my last gymnastics class. Peter, Jayden, Matthew, and Cailen. Peter was a confident, testy boy with a penchant for pushing my buttons. Jayden had a mature head his shoulders but reverted back to his goofy qualities at just the right moments. Matthew was quiet, competitive boy with a iron determination for perfection. Cailen was an inquisitive and vocal student with little self-awareness of his extraordinary talents. I was training these Golden Bear Level 5 boys all summer with the same rigor and discipline I received from my coaches, and I knew the hardest part of the class was soon approaching; I was going to have to let them go.

    As clock quickly tick-tocked away the remaining minutes I had left with my team, I struggled to cram as much gymnastics knowledge into their young brains as possible. Point your toes. Cast to horizontal before leaning your shoulders back. Chin on your chest. Never let go of the bar. Finally in the remaining minutes of class, Peter made a breakthrough and made his first kip--a basic skill on the horizontal bar that serves as a mini rite of passage in the Level 5 gymnastics world. As the team celebrated his accomplishment with high fives and yelling, I sat there in awe. I was honored that the stars aligned so I could see his progress culminate in a breakthrough on my last lesson. It was a touching moment that I thought I wouldn't have the chance to see.

    As I lined the boys up for my final pep talk, I looked around and surveyed the gym, the mats, and the equipment. I talked about all we had accomplished together and what the new season would look like without me there. Then I glanced back at the young individuals standing so neatly before me with their toes stacked on the white line, arms relaxed at their sides, and their eyes meeting mine. I smiled.

    "I'm really proud of you guys and I want you to know that I won't forget any one of you. Are you going to keep working hard once I'm gone?" I asked.

    "Yes!" they shouted in unison.

    Something in their voice told me that they were telling the truth and this was their gym now.
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