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Get A Helmet

I was a gymnast from age 4 to 23. I was a competitive gymnast for 8 of those years. Gymnastics was more than a sport for me – it was a lifestyle. Not doing it was never an option. When I struggled with injuries, I just had to find a way to work through or around the pain.

Rocky & His Girls, 1993

I had an amazing coach during my competitive career named Rocky Kees. He brought out the best in me and all my teammates. That man was gymnastics magic. I absolutely loved training with him.  It was one of the best times of my life. And Rocky taught me more than gymnastics. He taught me life skills that I carry with me to this day.

One of Rocky’s mantras was, “Get a helmet.” It was his way of saying, “Suck it up” but it had an added element of respect for how hard our work was. He respected that gymnastics was hard or scary, but he wouldn’t tell us to do anything that we couldn’t do. We all heard, “Get a helmet” on a regular basis. To this day, I can post “It’s a Get A Helmet kind of day” on Facebook and I’ll get lots of acknowledgements from my former teammates.

Post-It Above My Desk

“Get a Helmet” has become my mantra for building my law firm. I have it written on a little post-it note above my desk. Every day comes with its own set of challenges, whether it’s managing my calendar, balancing the books, doing client work, writing my book, or marketing the hell out of myself and my firm. There are a lot of things I’d rather not do, but that’s not really an option when you run a one-person shop.  Sometimes I get tired, frustrated, and unmotivated. That’s when I look up at that post-it note, take a deep breath, and soldier on.

Remembering to “Get a Helmet” keeps my eye on the prize. I’m not asking myself to do anything impossible. It’s just hard and scary. I can handle that.


  1. Alison says:

    So funny, I read “get a helmet” and Rocky’s voice was immediately in my head. I had forgotten about this phrase, but as soon as you said it, it brought me right back to those days. I’m going to use it in my life now. Thanks for the reminder. 🙂

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      Yay!!! I’m so glad I sparked the memory. I use Rocky-isms in my life all the time.

  2. Great post! Short, easy to read, strikes a perfect balance between formal and informal, personal and professional, and has a bit that sticks with you.

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      Thanks Daniel!

  3. Alex says:

    I Love It! Thanks for sharing! I’m going to get a helmet and put it on!

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      Yay! I support your plan. Rock on!

  4. Kara says:

    I haven’t heard that “mantra” in years and had actually forgotten about it until now. Reading your story brought tears as I remembered our days in the gym. It amazes me how one person could have such a huge impact in so many of our lives. I too am going to write the mantra and post it where I can read it daily. It is a great one to remember for all the challenges, big and small, that life throws at us. Thanks Ruthie for sharing and keeping us connected. 🙂

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      You’re welcome! I’m so glad to hear that Rocky has had as profound an impact on others as he does on my life.

  5. Erika says:

    Awww shucks, Ruth. This made me want to cry. Rocky really was the best. Still is. 🙂 Isn’t it amazing the things we learned in that gym!?! I’ll never forget those days…and nights. And I’ll never forget how you would ask Rocky repeatedly what the meaning of life was. Or when the whole gym would stop to acknowledge your exit when you would scream, “goodnight everybody!!!!” before leaving a workout!!! Haha! Both you and Rocky were the best.
    Thanks for sharing this, it seriously made my day!

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      Rocky is still the best.

      Oh fun times. I remember those nights when I couldn’t leave the gym without shouting good night to everyone. I think I did that every night for at least the last year of my competitive career, probably longer. I’m still looking for the meaning of life.

  6. Laura says:

    I saw last night that you were going to blog about Get a Helmet and I loved it then…still love it now after reading about it. I’m so glad you share these stories, because sometimes I think back to our times in that gym and feel like I imagined the whole thing, like nobody could’ve been that lucky to have had such a great family there and to be able to learn so many life lessons at such a young age. Yet, we did. I’m so glad Rocky’s lessons are living on through his girls (especially you!). Great job, Ruth!
    ps – the Get A Helmet also made me think of other Rocky-isms, like when he’d sing, “It’s beginning to look a lot like vaulting,” to the tune of It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas. 🙂

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      Thanks Ptuch!

      I remember Rocky singing “Twisting the night away.” The Rocky-ism I heard a lot was “You get one.” That was his way of saying, “If you do this skill wrong once, you will hurt yourself so badly that you’ll have to be carried out on a stretcher.”

      We were definitely the lucky ones because we got to hang out with him every night. We have an amazing gym family.

  7. Kristen says:

    Rocky really was gymnastics magic! He taught a lot of great lessons and Get a Helmet is definitely at the top. For me it said, “It’s a hard wall to push through….but do it anyway.” Definitely a great motto for any aspect of life!

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      Yes! Love it!

      I also remember the Rocky-ism “It’s only hard.” I used that one a lot in law school.

  8. Lindsey says:

    Ah, Love it!!! Such a good memory to spark and such an amazing man. Ptuch, I completely agree, sometimes looking back it seems just too perfect to be real. What a great way to grow up and what a wonderful coach to have help us through such defining years.
    Ruthie thank you so much for sharing

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      Lindsey Teiko!!!
      Being in that gym was an amazing experience. A lot of us grew up there, and our experiences definitely shaped who we are today.

  9. Mary says:

    “Get a Helmet” was such a great gift to you and your teammates. As someone who has worked in the legal field for 30+ years (I started when I was 2, yeah that’s my story) it is so nice to read about such a positive and proactive law school grad. I wish you nothing but the best in the future.

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      Thank you for your kind words, Mary!

  10. Jacqueline Vance says:

    Great blog Ruth 🙂 I miss Rocky, he really was the best!

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      Yes. He definitely has had a profound impact on a lot of us.