She’s diving. Sweating. Throwing herself to the floor. Her skin scrapes across the mats. Her hips and knees are bruised. She hits the ball down, and girls on the other side of the court duck as it flies millimeters away from their faces. A few of them aren’t quite so lucky and have the ball marks on their foreheads to show for it. They walk away rubbing and shaking the parts of their bodies she has nailed. She stands up and turns around, grins, throws her head back and yells…YEAHHH!! The points rack up; there’s a monster on the court.

She’s a natural.

Or is she?

You see, I’m her mom. I have watched the thousands of hours of practice and the tears when she had to sit on the bench. I’ve rejoiced in her victories and cried with her in the defeats. I have yelled at her, after dark, to put the volleyball away and get inside the house for homework; and for God’s sake, STOP HITTING THE GARAGE DOOR WITH THAT BALL!! I have been a first hand witness to her dogged pursuit of her passion. When most teenage girls are content with spending their Saturdays shopping and their Sundays sleeping in, she has woken up before dawn, thrown her gear on, and been the first in the car. From 8 years old, a volleyball has never been very far from her hand. She lives by the quote, “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”

She Crossfits. She runs and lifts weights in the garage and does an ab workout at night. She emails college coaches incessantly, stays up late studying and helps younger kids at volleyball clinics. She gives up much of her social life, her catch phrase being, “Sorry. I can’t. I have volleyball.”

So when game time comes, she’s ready. The movements are second nature. The volleyball is just another extension of her hand. It is Thor’s hammer. And my child puts it down.

I am learning from my baby girl, who just a few years ago was trucking around the backyard on her toy John Deere tractor in a princess dress and tiara.

I am learning that being “natural” at something most often has a whole lot of dedication, hard work, blood, sweat and tears behind it. There is no free ride when it comes to being good at something. Those who observe her play may think she’s lucky or gifted. But what she is, is driven, passionate, and in love with the game.

So when I show up to work on my Oly lifts, or sit down to write an article, I will channel this beast-child, remembering that my small, flailing attempts are the building blocks of my dreams. I’ll create my own hammer, piece by piece, and when the time comes, I’ll throw down.