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Tragic Loss: Remembering T’Yonna Major, the 9-Year-Old Gymnast Destined for the Olympics, Whose Promising Life Was Cut Short

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Tragically, on the evening of February 22, the Orlando Metro Gymnastics gym missed its dedicated gymnast. Instead of practicing her vaults, T’Yonna became an unintended victim of a senseless shooting spree in Orange County, Florida. A stranger with a gun unleashed violence, claiming the lives of 38-year-old Nathacha Augustin and 24-year-old Dylan Lyons. In a cruel twist of fate, T’Yonna and her mother were randomly targeted in their own home. T’Yonna's promising journey, filled with flips and tumbles, was abruptly cut short.

T’Yonna's journey began with extraordinary early milestones. Walking at eight months old, months ahead of the usual timeline, she skipped crawling entirely, heading straight into the realm of exploration. "I just knew she was gonna be something," remarked her mother, Brandi. By age 3, T’Yonna's boundless energy found an outlet in gymnastics. Her uncle, Dominic Major, vividly recalls a moment of revelation, "She started climbing on the table and flipping. It was like, ‘Oh my God. She’s a little gymnast.’ And that’s what she was."

Gymnastics wasn't just a hobby for T’Yonna; it was an intrinsic part of her being. Unsatisfied with two classes a week, her parents, Brandi and Tokiyo, brought the gym home. "She ate gymnastics. She slept it. She’d wake up in the morning, hit the bars, the balance beam," Tokiyo fondly remembered. T’Yonna's dedication was a family affair, her routines becoming a familiar rhythm echoing through their home.

In honoring T’Yonna Major, we mourn not just the loss of a young life but the extinguishing of a radiant spirit destined for greatness. Her story, a heartbreaking chapter in the larger narrative of youth affected by gun violence, serves as a somber reminder of the urgent need for change.

T’Yonna Major embodied a relentless drive that permeated every aspect of her too-short life. Beyond merely assisting her parents in the kitchen, she harbored aspirations of becoming a professional chef. Her passion extended to literature, where she devoured over 100 books last year alone, with the "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" series holding a special place in her heart. Each night, T’Yonna's mother, Tokiyo, read her to sleep, and on nights when Brandi worked, it was T’Yonna who reciprocated, reading her mom into slumber.

In the harsh reality of gun violence statistics, T’Yonna is not just a name but a heartbreaking statistic—one of over 1,300 children and teens fatally impacted by firearms in 2023, according to the Gun Violence Archive. This grim reality positions firearms as the leading cause of death for America's youth since 2020, eclipsing even motor vehicle accidents.

The alleged perpetrator, Keith Moses, faces three counts of first-degree murder and other charges related to the tragic events of that fateful day. He has pleaded not guilty, leaving the motive behind T’Yonna's senseless death shrouded in uncertainty.

On what should have been T’Yonna’s first day of fourth grade, her family, through Yaya’s Dream Foundation—a nonprofit established in her memory—distributed 100 backpacks filled with essentials at her elementary school. The foundation, echoing T’Yonna's generous spirit, extends support to the community. Whether it's laying out toys for other kids to enjoy or ensuring her friends had bikes to ride, T’Yonna's giving nature lives on through the foundation. Moreover, it advocates for responsible gun laws, striving to curb the violence afflicting communities.

"We're going to keep her name going," declares Tokiyo, reflecting the determination to honor T’Yonna's memory daily. For him, every day with T’Yonna was a cherished memory, but the Mondays and Wednesdays filled with gymnastics practice were particularly special. Gymnastics coach Donna Alexin recalls T’Yonna's exceptional dedication—each unmastered trick became an opportunity for relentless practice until perfection. When T’Yonna discovered the existence of college scholarships for gymnasts, she set her sights on securing one. Alexin fondly remembers telling her, "You're going to do NCAA gymnastics someday." The memory of T’Yonna Major, the vibrant gymnast with dreams of the NCAA, persists as a testament to the resilience of a young spirit extinguished too soon.

Immersing herself in the artistry of gymnastics, T’Yonna Major was not merely a participant; she was a dedicated scholar of the sport. From the luminaries like Gabby Douglas and Simone Biles to lesser-known but equally inspiring athletes like Soraya Hawthorne, T’Yonna delved into the intricacies of their movements and idiosyncrasies. The household practically had the "Gabby Douglas Story" on repeat, a testament to T’Yonna's voracious appetite for learning.

Her studies extended beyond the screen, encompassing gymnasts winning medals at every tier. Soraya Hawthorne, a protégé of veteran coach Donna Alexin, became a notable figure in T’Yonna's gymnastic journey. The young enthusiast took note of Soraya's heartfelt tribute to her father—tapping her heart and pointing to the sky during competitions. This meticulous observation was a testament to T’Yonna's commitment to the craft.

In just two years, T’Yonna earned an impressive tally of 24 medals, a testament to her talent and unwavering dedication. For her parents, Brandi and Tokiyo, each competition was a moment of awe as they watched their daughter shine. Her success, however, wasn't a solitary conquest. T’Yonna assumed a natural leadership role, unofficially becoming the team's captain. Her teammates admired her prowess, with one, 9-year-old McKenna, declaring her the best gymnast on the team.

While T’Yonna approached competitions with a serious intent to win, she injected joy into every moment. McKenna fondly recalls T’Yonna dancing in line, adding a touch of lightness to the anticipation before a competition. Unicorns held a special place in T’Yonna's heart, and now her teammates share a stuffed unicorn adorned with a little leotard in her memory.

Following the tragic loss, T’Yonna's teammates gathered, reflecting on the qualities she brought to the sport. From being a captain to embodying fearlessness and kindness, they decided to honor her legacy through "T-points." When one of the girls displays exceptional bravery, strength, or determination, reminiscent of T’Yonna, Coach Alexin awards them a "T-point." These points, far more than mere tokens, serve as a profound reminder of the values T’Yonna imparted. In those triumphant moments when a gymnast sticks a landing, they collectively pause, tap their hearts, and point to the sky—a shared gesture to a remarkable soul, forever present in their spirits.

In the vibrant world of gymnastics, T’Yonna Major's legacy transcends the medals she earned and the routines she mastered. Her story reflects a profound dedication to her craft, a relentless pursuit of excellence that extended beyond personal triumphs. T’Yonna's influence reached far beyond her individual achievements, as she naturally assumed a leadership role among her teammates, embodying qualities of fearlessness, kindness, and determination.

Tragically, her promising journey was cut short by the senseless act of gun violence—an epidemic that continues to plague communities across the United States. Yet, even in the face of this heartbreaking loss, T’Yonna's spirit endures through the gestures and traditions embraced by her teammates. The "T-points," awarded for acts of bravery, strength, and determination, are not mere tokens but symbolic echoes of the values T’Yonna personified.

The gymnastics floor, once graced by T’Yonna's boundless energy and unwavering dedication, now witnesses a poignant ritual. When a gymnast sticks a landing, they collectively pause, tapping their hearts and pointing to the sky—a shared tribute to the indomitable spirit of their captain and friend.

As T’Yonna's legacy lives on through her teammates and the Yaya’s Dream Foundation, her story becomes more than a narrative of loss; it becomes a rallying cry for change. Through the pain, her family and friends advocate for responsible gun laws, seeking to prevent further tragedies like the one that claimed T’Yonna's vibrant presence.

In the echoes of every gymnastic routine, in the shared joy and camaraderie, T’Yonna Major's impact persists. Her memory serves as a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and a reminder that even in the face of adversity, the values she embodied can continue to inspire and uplift.

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