Duckworth's history helps her team

Duckworth's history helps her team

By Terrin Waack | Assistant Sports Editor

The day after Alabama claimed the 1991 NCAA Gymnastics Championship title as a team, then-sophomore Dana Dobransky was to compete individually for the NCAA balance beam title.

Dobransky went through her routine without any hiccups.

“I was getting ready to do my dismount, I got ahead of myself, and I said, right before I dismounted, ‘Dana, you just did a perfect routine,’ ” she said.

Her following round off was fine, she hit her flip-flop, but the flip that should have finished it off, she missed, falling on her face in front of thousands of people.

Dobransky was mortified. She knew she had two options at that point. She said she could either stick her head in the sand, wallowing in self-pity, or she could get back up and do her job.

“I never did a beam routine again where I didn’t think until my feet hit the ground that I was done,” she said.

The following two years, Dobransky claimed back-to-back NCAA balance beam titles, scoring a perfect 10.0. She then finished her career in 1993 with being named NCAA Woman of the Year for the State of Alabama.

Fast forward 23 years, and Dana Dobransky is married with two children and more commonly known as Dana Duckworth, but she's back at her alma matter, currently halfway through her second season as Alabama’s head gymnastics coach. 

Now as a coach rather than a gymnast, the balance beam has come back to haunt Duckworth. She had three gymnasts fall during their routines against Arkansas, one was unable to finish, and most recently, she had another fall against Kentucky.

Duckworth isn’t happy with the inconsistency her team has been showing on the balance beam.

“I woke up Satruday morning [after the Kentucky meet] and my husband [Joe Duckworth] was like, ‘Why are you in a bad mood?’ I said, ‘Because I feel like we lost,’ ” Duckworth said. “It wasn’t that we lost. We lost a huge opportunity to get a huge score, and that hurts.”

Duckworth is trying to teach her gymnasts what she learned during her 1991 performance – they can’t get a head of themselves – and she said some of the gymnasts understand that while others just need a little more practice. Duckworth is still confident that Alabama will get there as a team.

The Alabama gymnasts aren’t naive either. They know they’ve competed inconsistently. 

Sophomore Kiana Winston said the thing that’s holding the team back, preventing it from being consistent, is self-doubt. Each gymnast knows that the rest of the team has her back. Now she just needs to believe in herself.

“If you have one thought of, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t make this,’ then it may show in a meet,” Winston said. “We really need to trust that our teammates trust us [and] our coaches trust us, because they wouldn’t put us out there if they didn’t trust us.” 

Duckworth's history as a gymnast does help the team. It allows her to relate with the gymnasts through the ups and the downs of the process in ways others cannot.

Even though it’s just her first year of collegiate gymnastics, freshman Ari Guerra said she’s already learned a lot from Duckworth.

“She’s very good to go for advice inside the gym and outside the gym,” Guerra said. “She cares for one another so much. She really cares for how we’re feeling and she uses that to help us in the gym and outside the gym with life lessons.”

Duckworth is there to support her gymnasts, regardless of what they’re going through or need help with. She’s said before, she’s not just trying to help the team grow into stronger gymnasts, but into stronger women as well.

After the Arkansas and the Kentucky meets, Duckworth’s support showed. She wasn't disappointed in any gymnasts, including the ones who fell, because with her gymnastics history comes an understanding.

“We’re human,” she said. “We’re going to make mistakes, but we’re going to get stronger from adversity, and learn that when it’s my turn, I’m going to give everything I have and do what I do every day – no bigger, no better – and hope that the outcome takes care of itself.”

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