Five Ways to Struggle Well in Unexpected Disappointment

  • by Melody Copenny
Top row: Ashton Locklear, Aly Raisman, Madison Kocian, Gabby Douglas. Bottom row: Laurie Hernandez, MyKayla Skinner, Simone Biles, Ragan Smith. Ezra Shaw/Getty images

Becoming a world-renowned Olympic gymnast is a dream that became a stunning reality for women like Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, and Laurie Hernandez, members of the U.S. Women’s Olympic Gymnastics team in 2016.

But what about the team’s three alternate gymnasts, gymnasts you’ve likely never heard about who trained and wanted to experience that reality too?

Cru staff member Stacie Fletcher met them while covering stories at the Olympics' opening and closing events.

Ashton Locklear, MyKayla Skinner, and Ragan Smith trained and lived an hour away from the team in Rio de Janeiro. The Olympic Games only host competitors, not alternate team members.  

“The alternates are there, training every bit as hard,” Stacie said. “At any moment, especially in the world of gymnastics, someone can get hurt and you would immediately be on the team.”

The women lived in a constant state of preparation and practice, ready to perform should anything happen. They understood that with each successful somersault, front handspring, and scissors leap, they likely wouldn’t get to compete.

Experiencing letdowns in the midst of pursuing goals is a part of life. Sometimes you get exactly what you want yet not the way you expected. Incredible success and incredible failure can be entwined.

Trainer Kim Zmeskal, who in 1991 became the first American gymnast to win an individual gold medal in the All-Around at the World Championships in Indianapolis, and also competed in the 1992 Barcelona Olympic games, knows well the unexpected bumps that arise in competitive athletics.

“How do you process this?” Stacie asked her after speaking with the alternates. “How do you come here, almost reaching your dreams?”

Kim’s career includes Olympic gold medal hopes that were never captured. She reminded Stacie that experiencing letdowns in the midst of pursuing goals is a part of life. Sometimes you get exactly what you want yet not the way you expected. Incredible success and incredible failure can be entwined.

What can you and I learn about perseverance and how to struggle well in the face of unexpected disappointment from these three gymnasts?

Learn the Lessons.

How might a current struggle you’re experiencing help you discover lessons you need to learn?

We don’t desire success to come through disappointment, but sometimes it does. Lessons don’t always mean failure. Instead, they can help you discover more about yourself and help you mature.

Determine Who You Will Be.

Maybe you can’t change the struggle, but you can decide how you will show up. Will you choose to finish well? Who will you get strength from? God invites you to come to Him when you’re tired, so you can discover life in Him. He can help you stand strong.

Redefine Winning.

The three alternates didn’t make the competing Olympic team in Brazil, but they did accomplish a significant feat.

“You made it as an alternate, which is so much further than 1,000 girls back in the U.S,” Stacie said.

Consider what winning means in this experience as you struggle well. Sometimes it may take 100 little wins to position you for the biggest win of your life. Winning first place doesn’t have to be the end goal in every situation. What you gain in the process can guide you toward progress in becoming who God created you to be.

Find Peace in the Struggle.

Commit to grow and trust the Lord. He can give you peace in the struggle. God will not abandon you and He desires to help you.

Surrender and find strength in the adversity. Let the experience refine you for the better.

Choose to Thrive.

Determine to not languish where you are. Continue to live and do the things you love. Invite others into your experience and let them know when you need encouragement. Ask friends to pray for you and pursue healthy friendships in community that remind you you’re not alone.

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