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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC gymnast Cappalli remains standing despite falls

Lexi Cappalli poses during her floor routine during Thursday afternoon's practice at Fetzer gym.
Lexi Cappalli poses during her floor routine during Thursday afternoon's practice at Fetzer gym.

She was 9 years old when she competed at her first Level 5 gymnastics meet. After finishing her vault, uneven bars and floor routine, a young Cappalli stepped up to the balance beam.

“I got up on the beam, and they usually shout warning to you when you have 10 seconds left,” Cappalli said. “Well when they shouted warning to me, I still had half of my routine left.”

She was determined to march on, but the warning call threw her off balance. She fell off the beam entirely.

But she got back up.

Back on the beam, Cappalli continued her routine but almost doubled her allotted time.

“I fell off the beam again later in the routine, and then finally, after two whole minutes on the beam, I dismounted,” she said. “I could just hear the judges’ sigh of relief that I was finally done.”

This was the end of her first meet, but it wasn’t the end of her career as a gymnast.

‘All that’

Cappalli continued to get back on the bar, competing throughout her childhood at various gyms.

She attributes her tenacity to her parents and family, who supported her throughout her gymnastics career — which started at just 2 years old in parent-tot classes.

“Her sister is about 19 months younger than her,” her mother, Jackie Cappalli, said. “So I had (Lexi’s sister) Courtney (Cappalli) in her little car seat and had Lexi going around in parent-tot class. Then they just continued from there.”

Jackie said she realized her daughters’ potential for a future in collegiate gymnastics when they were in middle school putting in hours upon hours of time at the gym.

Their family switched gyms in 2008 in order for Lexi and Courtney to receive the best training possible. Traveling to their new facility required a two-hour round-trip commute, but it was a sacrifice the Cappalli’s were willing to make.

“It was about an hour away from our house, but we made that decision,” Jackie said. “And it ended up working out.”

It was Lexi’s dedication to the sport that convinced Jackie the sacrifices were worth it and that her daughter could excel in both sports and academics — which took precedence in the Cappalli family.

“(She was) practicing 30 hours a week, still going to school and still had to do homework,” Jackie Cappalli said.

“I think you really have to love the sport, and she truly loved the sport. The dedication she had to put in wasn’t hard for her because she loved it.”

Lexi realized college gymnastics could be a possibility when she found herself competing in Level 10 gymnastics, the highest level in the USA Gymnastics Junior Olympic Program.

North Carolina gymnastics coach Derek Galvin agreed. The coach ultimately offered Lexi a scholarship and a spot on the Tar Heels’ team.

“I became aware of Lexi when she was a sophomore in high school,” he said. “We like motivated and inspired students and also a strong athlete. Lexi was all that.”

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‘A tremendous impact’

Now majoring in math with minors in business and chemistry, Lexi is looking to break into the business world in three short months, leaving gymnastics behind.

Her UNC teammates will value the few months they have left with her and the impact she’s had on the program.

“She has been a wonderful person to coach,” Galvin said. “But beyond her ability as an athlete, she has made a tremendous impact on our team in terms of the academic focus.”

Lexi has earned a spot on the All-EAGL Scholastic Team in each of her first three seasons at UNC and is also a student-athlete representative on the Faculty Athletics Committee at UNC.

Her personal determination and tenacity does not translate into her relationship with her teammates, though. As a leader, her coach describes her as great at encouraging but less so at being tough.

“Lexi is just not good at being ...” Galvin paused, then said, “mean.”

“You’ve got to step up and be the enforcer,” he explained. “I think, like with many of our seniors, that’s a tough role to step into. But she has made a tremendous impact on our team in terms of the academic focus.”

This season, Lexi is looking to lead her team to the NCAA Championship. She made it to the NCAA Regional in Auburn, Ala., as an individual a year ago, but the North Carolina team wasn’t able to snag a spot.

Despite the disappointing outcome in the previous season, Lexi is using the shortcoming to fuel her team to a place in the championships this spring.

“I know she wants to help guide this team to the NCAA’s as a team,” Galvin said. “She really wants to have the entire team there, and at times that’s a really big burden to carry as a senior.

“Everybody on the team has to be a part of that. I think if she could wish for anything right now for her team, it would be to be at NCAA’s as a team.”

She and her team are getting back on the beam — as well as the vault, floor and bars — focused on a team championship for Lexi’s final season at UNC.

But this time, she doesn’t plan on falling.

sports@dailytarheel.com