Strength of Spirit

Nov. 25, 2015

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IOWA CITY, Iowa — With the regular season quickly approaching, the University of Iowa women’s gymnastics team is focusing on strengthening one extra thing — the community.


Over the past two months, the Hawkeyes have split their time between the gym and community, participating in events like Hallow-Ridge Halloween at the Pheasant Ridge Community Center.

“We do this every year,” said head coach Larissa Libby. “The team enjoys interacting with the community, especially when it comes to entertaining children. This is something that we have done in groups or as a full team. However we can get there, they always want to do this event.”

Most recently, all 16 GymHawks lent their time to the Special Olympic for Unified Sports Day. During the event, the team split into different groups, with one group helping children with arts and crafts while others played games like Sharks and Minnows, balloon volleyball, and Capture the Flag.

“The Special Olympic athletes’ positive energy was overwhelming, contagious, and inspiring,” freshman Sydney Hogan said. “I liked how fun the athletes were. Their personalities were able to light up the room and bring a smile to my face.”

At the end of the event, the Special Olympic athletes were given awards for their participation and great effort given.

“My favorite part was playing the games with the athletes in my group,” junior Ashleigh Edlin said. “I was also a team leader and at the end of the day I got to present them with an award and told the rest of the group how some of them did at each event.

“I loved seeing the smiles and hearing their laughs throughout the day. Their reaction after receiving the awards was a priceless moment.”

The relationships built in a day will extend well into the gymnastics season, where the Pheasant Ridge Community and Special Olympic athletes have the opportunity to support their GymHawks.

“Some of the kids will come to our meets and remember our athletes helping them make a ghost or leading them through the haunted house,” said Libby. “Those are moments that keep them going back. When one child comes out of the crowd and remembers the two minutes you spent with them, it makes the experience special.

“With the things we do, we have the opportunity to make a connection with the kids and their families. A lot of the parents follow us on Facebook, come to our meets, send us letters and show their support. It has been good for both of us.”

The Hawkeyes — selected for NCAA Regional competition as a team in seven of the last eight seasons — kick off the season with the annual Black and Gold Intrasquad on Dec. 5 in the UI Field House at 11 a.m. (CT). Admission is free.

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