Years ago I started noticing that when I looked at a digital clock I would see identical numbers displayed—like when I woke in the middle of the night I noticed the clock read 2:22. This past year, on most mornings, I wake up at 5:55 a.m. even though my alarm is set for 6:15 a.m.
I looked this phenomenon up and discovered it’s something called Number Synchronicity. In laymen terms it basically means that you are in sync with the Universe and at the exact place in life you’re supposed to be. I choose to look at it like God is winking at me, telling me I’m on track for what I’m supposed to be doing in life.
This past gymnastics season Number Synchronicity was too blatant to ignore inside and outside the gym. One example, when the team returned from their holiday break we all went to see the movie “The Greatest Showman.” Shortly after the movie started there was a glitch and the movie stopped playing, only to resume a few minutes later. When the picture hit the screen again one of our athletes said to me, “Miss Val you’re going to want to know this, it’s 4:44.”
I continued to notice Number Synchronicity throughout the next four months leading up to our National Championship. In the last week God must have totally been messing with me because it happened ALL the time. Two days before we left for the Championship I was having a facial and told the esthetician the story of when I heard God say, “Be Anxious for Nothing and Grateful For All Things” after I was informed I had breast cancer. My esthetician said she got chills, and at that moment everything in the room flicked off and on. She was mildly freaked out because it wasn’t like a plug came loose from the wall. Nope, everything shut down then came back on: the lights, the music, and paraffin warming machine… I asked her what time it was. She said, “2:22.”
Number Synchronicity happened again the night before the National Championship during our Blue versus Gold team challenge. The scores (judged by our support staff) for each team usually end something like 256 to 278. In all of the many years we’ve been doing this, the teams’ scores have NEVER been tied. That night the team totals were 333 to 333!
Now… I want to make clear I don’t believe God cares about sports. I simply can’t imagine with all the needs in the world he would spend any amount of time blessing one team, program, coach or athlete a divine gift to excel above all others. For me, these synchronized numbers remind me to stay the course and to maintain my balance at the same time I’m getting a little nod and an “atta girl” from God.
The final day of the championship competition my intention was to keep my energy focused internally on our team and not externally. I knew we had a championship caliber team with a legitimate shot of coming out on top, but it would require every one of our athletes to reach their own peak performance. And even then the numbers would have to line up. In truth we were facing stiff competition with the No. 1-ranked Oklahoma Sooner’s looking to win their fourth championship in five years.
We began the Super Six competition on the floor exercise event. It’s a great event for us, but we would have preferred to finish our competition on floor since we were ranked No. 1 in the country. We view the floor as a party and we like to end competitions with a party. We brought good energy and did well, but not great. On that day we finished fourth as a team on the floor.
The next event was vault. Again, we did well but not great. We finished the competition in fifth place on the event. After the first two rotations we had a bye and headed to the locker room in 4th place overall.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I would learn later that our chance of winning was less than 3%. ESPN must have known this because they didn’t even bother broadcasting the start of our uneven bar rotation. The competition was tight and the teams ahead of us weren’t counting any mistakes. We needed excellence and that’s what we did.
Returning from shoulder surgery Madison Kocian had only competed bars in the one competition before the championship. She hit a phenomenal routine that wound up being the fifth best score of the entire meet. Senior, Janay Honest, who walked on the team her freshman year, closed out her career by receiving a perfect 10 from one of the six judges—the only 10 she’s received in her entire UCLA career. Fifth in our rotation was Christine Peng-Peng Lee. She came over to me and asked for a hug. Knowing this was the second to last routine she would ever compete I couldn’t hold my emotions in and the tears started flowing. I walked away wiping my tears while Peng stunned the arena with a perfect 10. Last up was Kyla Ross who held her handstands so long you could have taken a coffee break under the bars before she swung around. By the time the rotation concluded our uneven bar squad, which also included beautiful routines by Anna Glenn and Nia Dennis posted the second highest bar score in NCAA Championship history. And with that we headed to balance beam… still in 4th place.
At this point I honestly thought we were playing for 3rd… 2nd at best. I didn’t know it at the time, but our balance beam lineup would need to average a 9.95. To put this in further perspective, not a single competitor for the entire competition had scored a 9.95 and that needed to be our average.
The focus and joy our team was displaying was becoming overwhelming. Tears were already flowing from me and our athletes and we still had one rotation to go. I quickly tried to gather myself for an interview with ESPN right before our last rotation. I said to them, “It’s a good thing I have no affinity for math, because in my mind we can still win this thing.” I just felt I needed to keep a positive attitude… “It wasn’t over.”
Our athletes were beyond dialed in on beam. They had a glow and confidence about them that you only see in athletes when they are 100% In The Zone. Before each athlete salutes the judge to compete I always go up to each of them and remind them of one cue. I went up to our lead off athlete, Grace Glenn and was ready to tell her what I always do, “tap into your inner badass.” Before I could say anything she looked at me and said, “Miss V, I got this.” The look in her eye was one of absolute confidence. She killed it, earning a 9.9375. The fourth highest beam score of the entire meet. Our next athlete, Madison Kocian, a 2016 Olympic gold medalist, had that same confidence and was executing a gorgeous routine, but fell on her flipping series. The rules of competition allow all teams to drop the lowest score on each event, which meant the next four athletes had to be near perfect.
Brielle Nguyen was next. Brielle had never competed at an NCAA Championship before and she was now in the toughest spot of the meet… following a fall… from an Olympian… knowing if she made a mistake any hope of even finishing with a good feeling would be over. She nailed it, earning a 9.875.
Up next was Katelyn Ohashi, a rock of a competitor. As I started to remind her of her cue she grabbed my hand, looked me in the eye, smiled and said, “Miss Val, this is where we thrive.” She did… earning a 9.95.
Up next Kyla Ross, a 2012 Olympic Gold medalist who actually had our only other fall of the meet, on floor during our first rotation. As I was getting ready to tell her what I always tell her before she mounts the balance beam, “Don’t try to be perfect, just enjoy it,” she looked me square in the eyes and with a smile on her face said, “Miss Val, I got this.” Boom… 9.9875.
The last competitor, not just for us but of the entire meet, was 6th year senior Peng-Peng Lee, who was coming off a perfect routine on bars and would (unbeknownst to us) need a near perfect 9.975 routine for us to win. Let me take you into the arena at this moment. Everyone in the arena, everyone watching at home on their televisions, and everyone except a handful of math whizzes felt we were playing for 2nd at this point. This was evident by the fact that the ESPN TV cameras were camped out at the opposite end of the arena ready to capture Oklahoma’s jubilation knowing they’d won their 3rd championship in a row. LSU and Florida had completed their rotations on vault and floor respectfully and already knew they hadn’t beat Oklahoma. EVERYONE… including me and our team members thought Oklahoma had won the meet.
I went up to Peng-Peng and was ready to tell her what I always did, “Slow down your dance.” This kept her rhythm in check instead of getting too hyped up. Before I could say anything she smiled at me and said, “Miss Val, this is my last routine ever. I’m going to enjoy every moment of it.” What happened next was magical. Every skill, every dance move, every smile, every movement was intentional, including looking around the arena during her dance to take in her last competitive performance. At the end of her routine, the arena erupted with fans from different schools chanting “10, 10, 10, 10.” Our team was sobbing because we had finished the meet with the most stellar performance we could ever imagine. Without a score we were already celebrating a magical season. And then the score came up… a perfect 10.00. Another wave of jubilation for Peng. Then the team started pointing to the scoreboard—and I swear the team names and final totals changed in slow motion as UCLA moved to the top of the leaderboard. WHAT?!?!?!?!? With a 49.75 we had just posted the highest beam score in NCAA Championship history and secured the 2018 NCAA Championship title!
I honestly believe that had I known we could win if we averaged a 9.95 on beam I probably would have over coached. Instead of trusting each of our athletes when they told me, “Miss Val, I got this” and smiling and walking away, I probably would have said, “That’s great…” and proceeded to remind them of their cues… just in case. I’m so glad I didn’t. Their performances were what every athlete dreams of … free, in the zone, calm, confident, enthusiastic and absolutely brilliant.
Since we’ve won I have heard a lot of people comment on how great it was to see a team win with such joy and love for each other. I don’t think a team can win a championship in any sport without that glue of team trust, empathy and love. The funny thing is, this is my seventh championship, and each of them, spanning over three separate decades, have been won this way. The love and emotion within this team was visible even before we finished the meet. The magic happened before our last two events when they huddled up and reinforced their commitment to each other to do it for each other. They were free to perform… and they did.
Everything lined up, including the numbers. Peng-Peng closed out her career in perfect balance with two 10s, a product of living her life with positivity, gratitude and excellent intention … every day, every moment—and I was rewarded with lucky number 7.