This summer I learned what real dedication, hard work, and sacrifice was…from a 12 year old.

Meet Natalia. She’s the one in the back…not the 33 year old wearing an X-Men T-shirt. For the past three weeks I have been driving Natalia to and from gymnastics. Typical summer for a soon to be 7th grader right? Wrong.

Natalia has big dreams. Olympic sized dreams in fact and those types of dreams require a unique type of person and after these three weeks I believe she is that kind of person.

I would not say I am an expert by any means but I’ve done enough Malcolm Gladwell reading and coached enough athletes to be able to say I have a pretty good eye for the it factor. The biggest common denominator for me is sacrifice.

What are you willing to give up to get what you want?

Natalia left her friends and parents in Queens to live with her grandparents nearly two hours away for the last three weeks in the hopes that her daily 4 hour training would be enough to be accepted to a gym, knowing that if she were accepted it would alter the course of her life forever. She would more than likely be leaving “home”, her friends, her school, to chase a dream. She would probably have to be home schooled and then work she would have to put in would make these last three weeks of daily 4 hour trainings look like a warm-up.

This is her reality. She’s spending her summer at camp, training for 3 weeks, at camp again, with the future being undecided. Every morning she leaves her house by 11am to train and is home by 5. The gym is about an hour away. Here’s my favorite part. One of the first times I dropped Natalia back home I asked her, since she really doesn’t know anyone where she is living now what does she do for fun after training…her response?

“I like to jump on my grandparent’s trampoline.”

Think about that for a second. After working out vigorously for 4 hours she gets a little break in the car then it’s essentially back to training.

Now everyone in sports has heard the following cliché…

“What matters most is what you do when nobody’s looking.”

This is exactly what that means.

I have been around a lot of athletes who have “wanted it” and thought they were doing all they can to achieve it. After meeting Natalia I’ve learned there is a whole other level that you need to reach inside yourself. I have seen parents who have wanted it for their kids, wanted it bad. But if the athlete isn’t willing to sacrifice there’s nothing a parent or coach can do to get them there.

Will Natalia be in the Olympics one day? I have no idea and honestly that is not the point. The point is that in today’s society where it seems everyone thinks they deserve a trophy, parents included, there are still kids out there willing to put the work in for just a chance to reach their goals. At the end of the day, this level of dedication and commitment will only make Natalia a stronger person and the world needs more Natalia’s for little girls to look up to.

Driving my little girl home from the hospital less than three days ago I couldn’t help but think that Natalia is just the type of role model my baby girl needs.

I want my Maverick to be a Natalia.