Family and support.
These are two values that the North Carolina gymnastics team holds close to its heart, and it showed in a 195.4-192.1 win against Brown University on Monday afternoon.
Even as they formed a circle and started chanting, ‘Whose house? Heels' house!’ before their annual Pink Meet, the gymnasts had their eyes focused on the bigger picture — cheering on those around them.
When sophomore Grace Donaghy face-planted during her bar routine, her teammates were quick to rally around her when she finished. When sophomore Raine Gordon stuck her beam routine, her fellow Tar Heels raced over to hug her instead of the usual team high-five. While senior Morgan Lane prepared for her floor routine, senior Kaitlynn Hedelund started dancing in front of her teammate to loosen her up.
“We really are like sisters this year especially,” junior Madison Hargrave said. “We gel really well."
No matter where you looked in Carmichael Arena, there was some sort of support. Parents shook blue and white pom poms and held enlarged pictures of their favorite gymnast’s face. Children were in every corner, giggling and dancing along to the music. Various volleyball, women's basketball and softball players came out to support their fellow athletes.
However, no matter what team the fans were representing, the audience was a sea of pink and red in honor and support of the afternoon’s Pink Meet.
“We had a young lady on the team whose older sister was diagnosed with breast cancer,” head coach Derek Galvin said. "Sadly, the situation with cancer is that there are so many different forms, and all of us, at some point in our lives, have had someone that we love affected by cancer.”
This year, the team decided to partner with Get REAL & HEEL, a post-cancer treatment therapy program for breast cancer survivors. The program is sponsored by the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and UNC's department of exercise and sports science. Lane volunteered with Get REAL & HEEL this summer, working with its patients three days a week.
“So many of them are super strong women and have amazing stories," Lane said. "It was just awesome to listen to them this summer and learn from them, so I want to do everything I can to give back to them and make them recognized and known.”
Galvin looks for ways to give back to his community alongside his gymnastics team. Prior to the Pink Meet, UNC (6-5, 1-3 EAGL) held a Purple Meet when one gymnast's mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The team has also hosted meets in honor of pediatric oncology, the LGBTQ+ community and equality.
“Anything for a cause, it puts you in a different position,” sophomore Khazia Hislop said. “I love doing gymnastics, of course, but when you put a real, huge cause behind that … it’s bigger than us.”
At the end of the day, teammates have the community’s back, as well as each other’s. When one Tar Heel sticks her landing at the end of the routine, another will run over, donning her teammate with the Stick Shades, a pair of Carolina blue sunglasses. They use a team bicycle pump to "pump" each other up before meets, and they throw foam cubes at each other during balance beam practice.
“It’s easy to celebrate with someone," Galvin said, "but when someone has a rough meet, and things didn’t turn out the way they wanted to, sometimes there’s almost a sense of them feeling bad for disappointing their teammates.”
“But that’s when teammates step up and say, 'You’ll get it next time. You’re working hard in practice. Keep pushing. Keep fighting. You’ll get it.’”
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