Risks… from a red paper clip to a house!

By Sarah Moon, real gym National Lead

I heard a story about a man in Canada who traded up to a house, starting with a red paper clip. He wasn’t happy with this and wanted a more interesting item, so he first traded it for a novelty fish pen, then to a doorknob and a camping stove. Before long he was trading roles in films, rent for a year and finally a house! And it all started with a red paper clip.

This got me thinking about my journey through sport and coaching, and the risks I’ve taken, how they accumulate to such a point that they sound ridiculous, but when they are only a small jump from the previous ‘trade’… somehow they don’t quite seem so BIG. For me, it began with wanting to go to gym club because my best friend went to gym. My mum (I’m not from a ‘sporty’ family at all) said “Why do you want to that?” then took a risk and said “OK”. So the first risk was taken by my parents, just by allowing me to go to gym club, spending money on the classes and of course the leotard (although mum did iron it – school boy error. I wasn’t allowed another ‘in case I didn’t stick to it’, so went to gym with an iron mark on my tummy for about 6 months!)

The next risk, again by my mum, came when we moved to Somerset, and the ‘normal gym’ club was full, and she took me to ‘rhythmic’ instead. I cried, as I didn’t want to stay for my first session. She said “I’ve paid the £2 fee so you’re staying”. My mum, no doubt at the time, felt awful leaving me there, but she risked it, as she knew it could be the sport for me and the risk paid off. I LOVED IT!

After that the risk taking escalated, and fast. “Will she do a competition?” Yes – I got a silver!. “Will she trial for Regional Squad?” Yes – it’s in Exeter. OK, another risk. Dad drove me to Exeter, more money, more time, more commitment. But again, I succeeded and enjoyed it. And indeed, became Regional Champion for 10 years or so.

Then I met two coaches, a mother and daughter who changed the trajectory I was on. Margaret and Lisa Higgins. They asked “Will you come up to Birmingham and train with us?” Another risk – I said yes. So every Sunday morning dad and I took a trip to Birmingham. My dad did this without question, without moaning, without a guilt trip of how much it was costing us as a family emotionally and financially. He got up at 6.30am, drove me to start training at 9am, waited around for me, finished at about 1.30pm, and drove back to Somerset. We did this every week. As an adult now, I can’t believe they did this for me. A huge risk!
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It paid off again; I improved, and made it to the British Championships. I made the finals, I was happy. And now that my eyes were open to the possibilities that were there, I wanted a place in the Great Britain squad. I was always right on the edge, right on the boundary between ‘the squad girls’ and ‘the others’.
After changing gym club again, many more hours in the car, and a whole load of other adventures, tears and injuries, I reached 16 years old and gained a place in a ballet company in Bristol (I danced to help my gymnastic development), but the commitment was huge. So I had to take a decision: gym or ballet?
This one decision has probably shaped the rest of my life, but at the time I didn’t realise the potential impact. What were the risks involved? What was the choice? I chose gym! So then the risks escalated again, step-by-step speeding up along the way.

At 17/18 years old, I realised I wouldn’t make the British squad, so I would retire from competitive gymnastics. The journey was over – or not? I was already coaching and had won medals, including national titles with the little girls I had been coaching. So the next step: to coach more.

I had a chance at 19 years old to become Head Coach in Bath, another risk as I just was starting university, but I knew I could do this. So, I took the risk and went for it. There were teething problems, as with any change, but over the years the club grew stronger and the achievements got bigger and greater, until in the same year we had the British Junior Champion and the British Senior Champion! The hard work had paid off- again!

A few years, national squad gymnasts and trips with GBR to Bulgaria, France, Spain, and Germany later, the Olympics are coming to London. We have a chance for a group to take part.
Do we do it? Do we risk it all? There were no guarantees. No funding, no payments, no backing, no one could say for sure what would happen, day-to-day, let alone in 18 months’ time.
Gymnasts, families and coaches came together and after a start with group training in 2009-10 with another Coach, now in 2011 the group had to refocus. Could this really happen, an Olympic place? So the gymnasts took a risk, a year out from school, moved to Bath to live together, and trained.
But what about meOlympics? I took a massive risk as well. Moved from my hometown, to rent a tiny studio flat, left my job, and now was being paid under the minimum wage, taking huge stress, just to help these girls go to the Olympic Games.

You see the risk has accumulated and increased. But in a nutshell the risk was worth it, to coach at an Olympic Games! What an amazing experience, and it all started with a little girl who wanted to go to gym to be with her friend. Trading up has never meant more!

It just goes to show, start with a small risk, and see where the road takes you.