Jan. 23, 2006
Everything was going exactly as Talya Vexler had planned. She had been a part of the National Champion Georgia Bulldog gymnastics team. She was an all-American and well on her way to starting a career in coaching. Then her worst nightmare came true.
In February of 2003, Vexler was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was only 23. Luckily, she caught it in time. She has been healthy since August of 2003.
To get more people aware of breast cancer, Iowa and Vexler, Iowa’s new women’s assistant coach, will sponsor a “Pink” meet against Iowa State Saturday.
“We have no idea why I had cancer at such a young age. I think if women were more aware of it they would be diagnosed sooner and be a survivor like me. The only reason I was diagnosed was that I found it,” Vexler said.
Head Coach Larissa Libby couldn’t be more excited about the meet, which will be the Hawkeyes first home competition of the season.
“We felt like our first home meet is the one we should do the, Think Pink. Iowa versus Iowa State – what better way to show unification for one meet,” said Libby.
The teams will donate 50 percent of the admission fee to breast cancer research. There will also be pink prizes given out during the meet. Pink t-shirts will be thrown to the crowd and will be on sale. Both teams will also be competing in pink leotards that were donated.
“Both teams will be wearing the same leotards. That’s unheard of, especially against Iowa State. To agree on one leotard, that’s a big deal for in-state rivals. It’s symbolic that we can come together,” said Libby.
The idea for a “Pink” meet originated at the University of Georgia. When the team learned that Vexler was battling for her life, the Gym Dogs joined with Athens Regional Medical Center to raise $100,000 for breast cancer awareness. They donated the proceeds from their meet against Alabama to honor Talya.
“It’s so huge it’s unbelievable the amount of work that went into that meet on my behalf by the gymnastics team. It’s so overwhelming that so many people donated in my name,” said Vexler.
“Out of so many small donations came $100,000. I’ve never have felt so special in my life.”
While Libby’s excited to see the turnout for Saturday, she’s also looking ahead to making it bigger and better.
“It will be an annual thing. It will become a bigger deal,” said Libby. “Alabama and Georgia are really, really big teams. Ten thousand people go to see Alabama and Georgia. We’d like to someday reach that pinnacle. I think we can do that. People in Iowa City are diehard Hawkeye fans, and I think they’ll come out and support a great cause.”
Having Vexler around has benefited the team in many ways. Besides her ability to coach, Vexler has encouraged each gymnast to live every day to its fullest.
“They’re really excited. It’s having Talya around and representing the whole thing. It’s a constant reminder of how careful everyone needs to be in their life. She has such a wonderful outlook on life and reminds us not to take things for granted,” said Libby.
“You never know. The person standing next to you might have breast cancer, and you might be the one who helps save them.”
Almost three years have passed since Vexler was diagnosed. While she had always seen herself as being a head coach, things have changed in that aspect of her life as well.
“I want to be a part of a program that goes to NCAAs every year and that’s what we’re working for as a team of coaches. I used to think I wanted to be a head coach, but I’ve found such a great working environment here that I would be happy staying here forever.”
The “Pink” meet against Iowa State is on Saturday, Jan. 28 at the Field House. The meet starts at 7 pm.