07/31/2013 10:57 am ET Updated Sep 30, 2013

The Worst Thing Anyone Can Ever Feel: Regret

Level 10: the highest level of rhythmic. You really have to fight to get there.

Every one of the gymnasts who went to National Qualifiers this May showed up with that goal in mind. Everyone gave it their all. Everyone delivered.

Well, supposedly this was the case. But to every rule, there are exceptions. And I hate admitting it, but I was an exception. I did not deliver my best. Not for ribbon, not for clubs. And that made me feel the worst thing anyone can ever feel: regret. Knowing that I could have reached a little further to catch my ribbon, focused a little more so the stick wouldn't slip through my fingers, tried a little harder to clean up those execution errors, but didn't, still haunts me. And now my horrible moments are replaying over and over in my head, and I feel as though I am sinking in an endless pit of regret with no way to resurface.

After my disappointing competition, I gaze out the car window and try my best to keep my eyes dry. For a while I actually succeed by telling myself what's done is done, and that I should let it go. But soon tears pricked at the edges of my eyes, and as I blinked, the first tear rolled down my cheek. Once the floodgates opened, there was no stopping it. Silently, so my mom, who sat next to me in the driver's seat, wouldn't hear my pathetic crying, I let the tears run out, and turned my head as far away from her as possible. She didn't speak for a while, not until we reached our hotel and I couldn't hide my tear-streaked face from her any longer. Even though I swiped furiously at my tears before she looked at me, the evidence of my pity session presented itself conspicuously in the form of smudged makeup and reddened eyes.

My mom hated to see me cry, especially because I had no right or reason to. I had messed up -- that wasn't anyone's fault but mine -- and crying wouldn't help at all. But I was so overwhelmed by regret that I hated myself at the moment. This was a lame excuse for the ruckus I made, but it was seriously why I was crying, and this time I couldn't seem to stop.

"Why are you crying?" she asked, perhaps more pointedly than intended, but I heard the concern in her voice. Unable to form all the emotions into words, I just shrugged and looked away, and avoided her gaze and questions. Even after entering our hotel room, I continued my silent crying, and my mom continued trying to figure out what I was thinking, but to no avail. Finally, she sat me down and forced me to look at her.

"Amanda, stop this. What is making you so upset? Why are you crying?" she asked for the millionth time, and for the millionth time I shrugged and crossed my arms, looking at the floor. But she wasn't having any more of my crap.

"Tell me now why you're crying." Her voice this time wasn't as gentle as it was before; it was tinted with frustration and impatience. I inhaled slowly, trying to slow my shaky breaths, and opened my mouth. But the words caught in my throat, and all that came out was another frustrated sigh. And more tears.

Great. I knew I was being ridiculous, how useless crying was, and yet each time those scenes flashed across my mind, it was like a fresh stab in the gut. So the tears freefell from my eyes, blurring my vision and making my head hurt. I closed my eyes and forced some tears out, hoping that I'd run out of them soon, and when I opened them again my heart twisted painfully. Tears had streaked down my mom's face, and her tortured expression cut me deeply.

"Why are you crying," she whispered again, but this time her voice was shaky and flooded with pain. I cringed at her tone. This was the first time I'd ever seen my mom cry, and watching her suffer was probably the worst thing I've ever watched; my mom, who was always so strong, the one who was there to encourage me through the roughest times, was now vulnerable, and I was the reason for it. Finding my voice, I tentatively asked, "Why are you crying?"

She looked me square in the eye and answered exactly what I had dread hearing: "I hate to see you hurting yourself." So it was my fault. I had put those tears in her eyes. I had filled her with pain, with helplessness and with grief.

I sniffed and wiped my damp cheeks, and finally told her why I was crying, trying everything I could to get her to change back to the mother I knew.

I'll never forget her pained expression. It forced me to realize how shortsighted and close-minded I'd been. I was so wrong to think that qualifying to level 10 was the ultimatum that determined whether I had succeeded or not as a gymnast. I resolved that no matter what, I will never lose myself to regret. I will never wallow in self-pity.

And I will never put those tears in her eyes again.