My mother always taught me not to care about what anyone else thinks and to believe in myself.
Those words have followed me throughout life—from my cheerleading days as a four-year-old to my current college gymnastics run at the University of Denver.
Perhaps they’ll even carry me as far as the Olympics.
That’s been a dream of mine ever since I was a kid.
I’m not saying it will or won’t happen, but it’s something I want to at least pursue to the best of my ability.
My mom passed away last year, and it was something she always wanted me to do.
If life has taught me anything over the last few years, it’s that no dream is too big to be forged into reality.
And yes, I can attest to that.
In the beginning, I actually never planned on going to college.
Quite frankly, it wasn’t really something I ever considered.
I’m coming from a low-income family, and school just wasn’t super important. No one in my family had ever been to college either.
Not to mention, academics wasn’t necessarily prioritized in my previous educational experiences. So anything outside of high school never seemed like a realistic option for me. Admittedly, I lacked self-confidence. A common theme throughout my life, to be honest.
Middle school became a slog for me trying to just stay motivated and thinking of ways to get over the slump.
Who would ever think I’d one day look back fondly on those early struggles as great teaching moments.
I guess hindsight truly is 20/20.
That moment pushed me to become the best version of myself.
I had just finished my freshman year of high school by the time I figured everything out. Well, some of it.
And it all started with a life-changing moment when the University of Denver coaching staff told me that I was good.
Being told I had talent was earth-shattering news to me.
I didn’t even believe it at first because no one had ever told me before. It was a realization that I was more talented than I knew, and that I was holding myself back.
From the get-go, this created a unique bond between the coaches and I. It was one of the things that really stood out to me.
They showed the kind of belief in me I knew I needed.
There was a lot of emotion when I finally accepted their offer and became the first person in my family to go to college.
I went in with the perspective of giving it my all, even if that meant failing.
I was both nervous and excited about embarking on a new adventure.
Coming into Denver, it was quite a bit of a culture shock. Given my background, an upscale city wasn’t really what I was familiar with.
I was suddenly surrounded by so many people from all different walks of life.
And it didn’t help my ongoing struggles with confidence. Most importantly, I had serious concerns about my academic abilities.
Even if I succeeded in gymnastics, I didn’t think I had what it took as a student to actually stay afloat at the university.
Deep down, I truly believed I’d eventually end up flunking out.
So we had to work incredibly hard to help me overcome these doubts.
There were many times when I had to turn back to my mom’s words as a reminder to always believe in myself.
And as time went on, I started to put the pieces together and inched to the realization that I was awesome, regardless of what I continued to do or accomplish.
I started to see success in gymnastics from the get-go. Literally! I actually even won the floor title in my very first collegiate meet.
The success definitely helped, but confidence is a tough beast to tackle. It certainly took a while to really fully believe in myself.
One turning point definitely came towards the end of my sophomore year when I clinched an NCAA co-championship.
Writing school history was phenomenal, but honestly, I was even more excited for the opportunity to be surrounded by Olympians and people I grew up watching compete on television.
Being on the podium with those individuals was priceless.
That early success was bound to come with some adversity.
In my case, it came a few months ago when I tore my Achilles during a floor routine.
My mindset was to be the best that I could for as long as I could, and I was able to achieve that goal. I’d obviously prefer not to have been injured, but I’m also not completely devastated, either.
It’s been a great break to take a deep breath and focus on myself and my school work.
Even the whole surgery aspect was fascinating to me. It’s kind of morbid, I know, but that’s where my head was at.
Little did I know the rest of my team would soon be joining me on the sideline.
A day after learning about meets being postponed due to the Coronavirus pandemic, we were informed that all NCAA sporting events were canceled.
It was so sad to see our two seniors not get a chance to finish the season, but there was probably more optimism in our locker room than expected.
We had three people on the shelf dealing with injuries, and we could take the opportunity to get everyone healthy and come back even stronger next season.
I’m super excited to return to health and get back to competing.
I’m just ready to give it my all for my girls and experience new challenges.
I can remember being a kid watching the 2003 World Championships on television and telling my mom I wanted to compete one day.
I’d go out in the yard every day after that moment, imitating the things I saw.
A flyer for gymnastics classes came sometime later, and my mom referred to it as fate. You can pinch me right now because I’m already living the dream.
The next leg of my journey hopefully leads to the Olympics as a representative of Haiti. It’s a lofty goal that would typically bring along feelings of self-doubt—until I remember those words from my biggest fan.
“Don’t care about what anyone else thinks and always believe in yourself.”
I’ll carry those words of wisdom with me until the day I take up my wings next to hers.
This one is for you, mom.