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The Daily Tar Heel

Gymnastics injuries harden Diamond

Fearless gymnast uses unique trick

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When called on to help her team finish its season strong, redshirt senior Teri Diamond is going to come out swinging — on the uneven bars, that is.

With an original dismount and a quiet confidence on the apparatus, Diamond hopes to help the UNC gymnastics team defend its title in the East Atlantic Gymnastics League championships this weekend in Washington, D.C.

This season, Diamond has assumed two major roles — she’s both a fierce competitor and a leader for her teammates.

Diamond’s physical and mental toughness have helped her make a comeback after a season-ending injury her junior year.

And she’s got the results to show for it. At her final home meet two weeks ago, she earned a career-high 9.825 on the bars.

“It felt great to go out that way, to just have that memory that I did so well my last time in Carmichael,” Diamond said. “To go out and stick my routine and get the highest score of the meet just felt like redemption.”

But redemption didn’t come easily for Diamond.

A traumatic ankle injury prevented her from competing in 2010. She’s also injured her elbow, knee and hamstring, to name a few.

Despite the injuries, she returned this season with a new trick up her leotard sleeve — one that has the potential to cause further damage to Diamond’s ankles.

The unique dismount is a one-and-a-half back flip from a handstand position on the high bar, a trick that caught judges’ and fans’ attention in the first home meet of the season. Diamond first saw the skill done by former teammate Christine Nguyen and decided to include it in her own routine.

UNC coach Derek Galvin said the dismount is a collegiate one-of-a-kind.

Even though the skill is now a cornerstone of Diamond’s routine, Galvin had his reservations about her using it at first. With a high level of difficulty and the potential to cause shoulder and ankle injuries, the high-flying stunt requires technical skill and confidence to be performed safely.

It didn’t take long for Diamond to convince her coach she was more than capable of sticking it, and she’s used it to bolster her bars scores.

“The thing that’s been so impressive about her is that she just kept coming back, she just kept fighting through those injuries,” Galvin said. “She’s been doing the best gymnastics of her college career this year, and that’s totally to her credit.”

Coping with injuries has made Diamond more empathetic toward teammates, who she’s helped transition back into training after they’ve recovered from their own injuries.

Galvin has seen Diamond blossom into a positive leader who brings out the best in her teammates.

“We’ve been fortunate over the years to have a number of very good, effective leaders, and Teri is definitely one of the very best we’ve had in the 30 years I’ve been here,” Galvin said.

Freshman Kristin Aloi credits Diamond and her motivational pep talks with inspiring her to strive for success on the uneven bars, an event that Aloi had been having difficulty with.

“Bars is my weak event, but she came up to me and was like, ‘Kristin, you need to believe in yourself. You can do bars and you can contribute to this team on bars. You just have to push yourself and I’m going to hold you accountable,’” Aloi said.

She added that Diamond’s encouragement extends beyond the occasional pat on the back.

“The best thing about Teri is that she’s always so happy and bubbly,” she said. “She definitely uplifts the whole team every day.”

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Diamond gets her own support from her mother, a coach and former gymnast who introduced her to the sport when she was five years old.

To this day, Diamond turns to her mother for advice and support.

“If I’m ever having trouble with an event or if I’m having confidence issues, I always go to her and she makes me feel so much better,” she said.

Diamond’s gymnastics career began when her mom signed her up after realizing her daughter had a knack for climbing furniture.

“My mom put me in gymnastics because I was a crazy child, I had too much energy,” Diamond said. “One time she found me with the drawers pulled out, so I climbed up the drawers and my mom comes in the kitchen looking for me and I was like, ‘I’m up here, Mommy!’ I was on top of the fridge, just chillin’ on top of the fridge.”

Soon after, Diamond started training at Hills Gymnastics in her hometown of Gaithersburg, Md. After winning the first meet she competed in, Diamond was hooked. New tricks came naturally to her, and she soon began practicing almost 40 hours each week.

Gymnastics has been a big part of her life, but she doesn’t know what role it will play in her future.

Diamond probably won’t try her hand at coaching, but she wants to remain close to the sport. She’s even considering auditioning for Cirque du Soleil so she can put her gymnastics expertise to work after graduation.

But Diamond said she’ll never find a true substitute for gymnastics, which she’s been passionate about for most of her life.

“It’s just unlike anything else,” she said. “I could go kick a soccer ball or hit a ball with a bat, but it’s nothing like using your own body to flip and defy gravity.”

Contact the Sports Editor at sports@dailytarheel.com.