Gymnasts compete for more than personal glory

Gymnasts compete for more than personal glory

Carley Sims strikes a pose during her floor performance. CW | Hanna Curlette

Do it for her.

The women on the Alabama gymnastics team don’t go through all the preparing, the practicing and the competing they do for themselves, instead they do it for each other, for their teammates, for her.

“We’re constantly trying to ask the ladies, ‘What’s your why? Why do you do what you do? What’s behind what you do?’” Alabama coach Dana Duckworth said. “At the end of the day, our ladies know that the sooner they realize it’s not about them, it’s about their teammates and it’s about giving back, then they’re going to have extreme success.”

After freshman Avery Rickett took a spill on the balance beam and had to be carried off by associate head coach Bryan Raschilla to the training table, junior Aja Sims was up next on the beam for Alabama during its home meet against Arkansas on Jan. 22, where Alabama lost 196.700 to 196.400.

After the meet, Sims said she normally doesn’t watch the performance before her, and the Arkansas meet was no exception so she missed Rickett’s fall. Without getting rattled, Sims just focused on what she needed to do in order to be the best she could be for her team.

“I try to just think, ‘okay, for her,’” Sims said after Friday’s meet. “I love this sport, I love these girls, so that’s what I do it for.”

The loss was a shock to the gymnasts, and in the locker room after, Sims said the emotion could be seen on each other’s faces.

There wasn’t one gymnast who stood up and made a speech in hopes of cheering everyone up, instead everyone looked at each other and just knew all the words that were left unspoken.

“Inside, I think, everyone said their own little pep talk like, ‘Hey guys, we’re still in it. Fight for everything, every second. Do it for her,’” Sims said.

The following week, Alabama lost to a No. 1 Florida team, 198.175 to 197.525, but it posted a 49.550 on the beam, setting the fifth highest beam score in school history. The three falls were forgotten.

And that’s how this season’s team handles everything. The gymnasts want to be better for each other, not just for themselves, and they know what they want their identity to be as a team.

Duckworth said this team takes ownership. It’s created its own identity from the start. The gymnasts were the ones who came up with live the legacy, with the word of the week and with their goals academically.

Each season presents a new team that’ll face the process of finding its own unique identity, and it’s crazy to Sims that there are six new faces on the team this year.

“They’ve done so good with listening to us and just trusting us because obviously this is new to the,” she said. “They kind of just roll with the flow, try to trust when we tell them, ‘Don’t freak out, it’s going to be fine – it’s still the beginning of the season.’ We have a great team for that.”

The younger gymnasts listen to what the veterans have to say. Duckworth said the freshmen listen to what the others say is or is not acceptable, and with both sides of the spectrum willing to work together, it shows opportunity for personal growth for each gymnast, regardless of her age.

Along with finding its new identity comes finding the team’s best lineup. Right now, Duckworth is focusing on building depth while balancing having to switch gymnasts in and out to find what’s best.

But there’s no rush right now for Alabama to find that perfect lineup..

“Some teams say, ‘I’m going to make that decision early,’” Duckworth said. “We’ve always been one that allows it to unfold, but you’re always expecting everyone to be ready.”

What’s best for the team is what is also what’s most important to the team. It all comes back to who each gymnast is doing this for – who is the routine for, who is the commitment in-and-outside the gym for – and it’s all “for her.”

There are six freshmen, four sophomores, six juniors and two seniors on this year’s team. When it comes to finding its identity and finding its perfect lineup, it’s all a just matter of time.

“I’m enjoying watching the process unfold,” Duckworth said. 

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