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Friday March 24th

UNC gymnastics reflects on Nassar after team's Equality Night

<p>The North Carolina gymnastics teams waves to the crowd during its Equality Meet on Jan. 19 in Carmichael Arena.</p>
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The North Carolina gymnastics teams waves to the crowd during its Equality Meet on Jan. 19 in Carmichael Arena.

North Carolina gymnastics head coach Derek Galvin sat down with his gymnasts prior to their meet against Temple on Friday night, holding a white piece of paper.

The sheet was littered with different fonts and colored blocks across the page, with three distinct flowers at the top to frame the Maya Angelou poem.

He handed out copies to both teams and read it aloud to his own: “We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter what their color.” 

Sure, the Tar Heels won their first meet of the season, 195.300 to 194.375, over the Owls. But the meet meant more than a tally in the team’s win column.

A copy of the printed Maya Angelou poem that UNC gymnastics head coach Derek Galvin gave to each gymnast ahead of the team's meet on Jan. 19.

The team wanted to take a stand for what was right, to create another chain reaction like it did last January with the #BETRUE meet. The Tar Heels wanted to embody Angelou's poem and stand united for those without a voice.

“This event was just extremely beautiful and important for us to do considering what has been going on with the whole gymnastics world,” sophomore Alexis Allen said. “I think that people should be recognized for who they are because at the end of the day, we are all one the same.”

The planning for this event began this past summer, as Galvin started preparing for a similar LGBTQ+ meet as last year’s. However, after reflecting over different events such as the Women’s March and the Dakota Pipeline, he decided he wanted to expand the meet in order to honor different backgrounds.

As he started talking to different campus organizations, such as the LGBTQ Center, The Black Student Movement, the UNC American Indian Center and the Safe Zone program, there was one group that stood out among the rest — the Carolina Women’s Center.

“I sought them out,” Galvin said. “I went to them, and I said, 'I want you to be a part of this event because, besides the issues of equality for women, there are a lot of other issues that are going on, certainly, everything that’s happened in Hollywood and all across the country.'

“For too long, women have been subjected to treatment that they don’t deserve.” 

This meet was close to home for the team, especially in light of recent developments regarding Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics team doctor and Michigan State employee who is on trial for sexual abuse of more than 140 gymnasts.  Over this past week, one by one, women stepped up to face their abuser — the one who took some of their dreams away — in the Ingham County Courthouse in Lansing, Mich.

“To just think about someone taking those other little girls’ joy away just breaks my heart,” senior Morgan Lane said, “because I think about my early years in gymnastics with such fond memories, and thinking that not everyone in the sport can do that just tears me apart, because I love it so much.”

North Carolina senior Madison Nettles competes against N.C. State on Jan. 12 at Carmichael Arena.

The trial weighs heavy on the Tar Heels — and not just because it’s a sport they all love and share. Lindsey Lemke, a UNC gymnast for the 2014-15 season, took the stand on Thursday. The Holt, Michigan native only competed at UNC during her first year, before she transferred back home to Michigan State, back into the clutches of Nassar.

“It’s one of the saddest, and at the same time, most disgusting situations you could ever imagine,” Galvin said. “These gymnasts and their coaches trusted a man who was a manipulative predator … For it to be a sport that’s defined by beauty, for something so ugly to happen, it’s disappointing. It’s definitely having an impact on gymnastics on every level."

Galvin said Lemke had her ups and downs, and with this coming to light, he is able to better understand what was going on.

"She is one of the young women who helped bring him to justice," he said. "I’m proud of her. I’m proud of all those young ladies, and I just wish that someone had listened.” 

Galvin said he feels protective over his team. Tar Heel gymnasts joke about him referring to them as his “surrogate daughters” — and him being their “surrogate uncle." These terms are used because they are a family.

“If anything were to happen to one of the young ladies on our team, I would, and I’ve told them this, ‘I’ve got your back,’” Galvin said. “I will be there. Communicate with someone whether it’s our team sport psychologist or whether it’s one of our assistant coaches or an athletic trainer or academic counselor.'

“If there’s something that makes you uncomfortable about the way someone is treating you, tell somebody. We’ll fight that fight.’” 

While the past cannot be changed, there is hope that progress will start in order to change the future for women, for marginalized voices, for those who are coerced into silence. As an Irish immigrant, Galvin hopes the change continues for the sake of this country. 

“When we came here, my parents said, ‘We’re moving because it’ll be better. There will be more opportunity. We’ll be treated better,’” Galvin said. “For so many people, the United States is the place. It’s the best place.'

“We’ve still got work to do if we’re going to continue to be viewed that way by other countries. Equality is the first step.”


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