How Miss Val Became a Gymnastics Coaching Legend | The Players’ Tribune

– Dear Miss Val…. – Five hundred and thirty wins. – Dear Miss Val…. – For Valorie Kondos Field it’s another conference banner. – Thank you for everything. You have touched each and every one of our lives. – Now and forever, the coach of of the century. – Dear Valorie, at what point did you become Miss Val? If you would have told me when I was 16 years old, “Oh,
guess what? You’re going to be a gymnastics coach.” I would have said, “Yeah, no.” If you would have said,
“Oh, you’re going to be the head coach of the
UCLA gymnastics team.” That would be like going to the moon with Mikhail Baryshnikov.
That was not happening. I just sit and I shake my head. How did that happen? How did it happen? My dream was to be a ballerina…. But partly because I wasn’t born to be a ballerina. I was told many times by a ballet director or teacher that my head is too big, my neck is too short, my feet are too small, I have no turnout. And then they would inevitability say, “But you can dance.” And it wasn’t until someone told me that I didn’t look like that that I would realize I didn’t look like that. Really clean lines,
like when your legs are supposed to be together,
get them together. Like that part over there
… your heels together are like this. You know? Body-shaming can affect someone’s life for a long time. That is the one thing that I have carried through in all of my coaching and teaching. To help people feel
good about what they are and who they are, and feel great about the fact that they are not a stereotype. And then, “Whoa! That is so
cool that you’re so unique.” Unique is so much more
fun than status quo. I have never done this
sport. And my parents would not let me stop dancing to start taking gymnastics. So I called up a local
gym and I asked them if they wanted a dance coach for their gymnastics team. And
they said, “We don’t have money for that, but we’d love to hire you as a pianist. I was like, “O.K.” It’s interesting because when people say, “Oh, so you got into
the sport of gymnastics for dance?” I’m like, “No, I got into the sport of gymnastics through the piano.” – Light – Excited – Thank – You – Bruins – For – Everything – For seniors – And Miss Val – Whoa! U-C-L-A! U-C-L-A! U-C-L-A! FIGHT-FIGHT-FIGHT! – I have always felt very
uncomfortable with people calling me coach. To this day I chuckle inside when they say
coach, because I don’t feel like a coach at all. Someone asked me the
other day, when I retire am I going to let go of “Miss Val”? And it made me start to think
of what is the difference between Miss Val and Valorie? Valorie tends to be more playful, and loving, and giddy, and fun, and ditzy at times. And as a head coach, if I brought all those things to the table it would be a slippery slope. And what I love about this persona of Miss Val all these years is that I have
embraced the struggles of being disciplined. I feel like – as I’ve
gotten older and solidified that leadership role as Miss Val – I have been able to allow myself to be silly and fun at moments in time without it effecting the
base and the foundation of me as the head coach of
the UCLA gymnastics team. I never wanted children of my own, and I have never regretted
not having children. And in the same sense I have been blessed to have hundreds of children. Not just young women,
but young men as well. The relationship that I have
with the majority of them is quite remarkable and something I don’t take for granted. Hi beautiful! How are you? – I’m good! – And one thing that I just have always loved doing is on any given night, usually on a weekend if I’m home, I’ll just send out a text to the alumni that are in the area. And I’ll just say, “Hey, family dinner at
six o’clock Sunday night. Let me know if you’re in.” It’s really important to sit around a dinning room table, a family dinner, and converse and communicate over a meal. O.K, so I knew I was going to retire three years ago. I
signed my last contract. The only thing I wanted
was a family reunion at our last home meet. And that’s not just our Bruin family,
it is our Bruin family. And I would’ve never ever dreamed to have the gift that
you three have brought, in the most magnificent,
joyful, loving way. There’s not a greater
gift I could have been given. There is no way I will ever be able to thank you guys enough. So, here’s to family. – Cheers. – AND NOW GET ON YOUR FEET FOR THE NATIONAL CHAMPION UCLA BRUINS! – I don’t want to waste
a moment of my life. Every single person that
hears that I retired, and its new to them,
they say, “Oh, so are you going to take a nice long vacation and just kick your feet up and relax?” And I am like, “Oh, heck no!” There’s just a lot that I want to do, and I don’t plan on dying until I’m 103. I don’t know in which exact direction it’s going to go, but I’m
really excited for it. Life is about choice. And the choices that we make dictate the life we live. I have been told a lot that I have done a lot to help the the sport
of gymnastics. I don’t think I understand the magnitude of that. I don’t know. – Dear Miss Val…. – Dear Miss Val, It’s hard for me to talk about you without tearing up. – You’ve touched each and
every one of our lives in such a tremendous way. – You definitely helped me become the best gymnast I could be.
And in the ensuing years I have learned so much
from you about being the best person I could be. – You’ve been a coach, a mentor, a friend, a mom, and everything in between when I’ve needed it the most. – Because of you I
rediscovered my love for the sport. You are bigger
than the sport of gymnastics. – It’s truly amazing what you’ve done. You’ve given these girls a voice where they otherwise would
not have had one. And I look at you like a hero. – When people are around you they feel love, they feel safe, and they feel seen. Thank you for teaching me that the most important thing you can do for someone is how you make them feel. – What you planted in me lives on. And those seeds are forever in me, and they will forever
be in each generation that comes beyond me. – Thank you for everything.
And I am so blessed to have you in my life. – You have left UCLA a better place. – May you be granted
many more years to dance. – I love you forever. Lena. – Onnie. – Danusia. – Ariana. – Sam. – Love always, Anna. – Dear Valorie, You have no idea what lies ahead for you. There is this incredible
woman you’ll meet, she shares a similar name. She is like you, but not really. The life you live together will be the most fulling dream you’ve
never thought to imagine. Miss Val and Valorie – it’s who I am. What lies ahead is uncertain,
as the future always is, but I’m ready. This is not a goodbye. It’s a new beginning. Miss Val, she’ll serve me
well in our new future. Love always, Valorie.

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