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    Opinion...

    A night to remember as UF champion gymnastics team salutes cancer patients with “magic medicine”

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    March 10, 2015

    It was a night to remember. College athletes and their supporters struck a significant blow in the fight against cancer. The Florida and Kentucky gymnastics teams performed championship routines to the delight of a packed audience at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center at Gainesville. The athletes were not just performing in the arena. They were also creating increased awareness for breast cancer in the campaign to find the cure.

    It was a “Pink Out.” Pink symbolizes the campaign to create breast cancer awareness. Both teams wore uniforms trimmed in pink. Most fans wore pink shirts. On this evening, Florida’s Orange and Blue and Kentucky’s Blue and White were trumped by the sea of pink that engulfed the arena.

    Cancer survivors in the audience were saluted. This was their night. They were honored for their courage and praised for the inspiration they provide in the fight to kick cancer’s tail.

    2015 is the ninth year the Gator Gymnastics Team has hosted a Link To Pink. But, this year was different. The fight against cancer was very special. This year It was personal. Cancer has struck at home. Six weeks ago the mother of senior team leader Rachel Spicer was diagnosed with breast cancer.

    The athletes on the Gator Gymnastics Team have always been a close family unit. This devastating news drew them even closer. They circled the wagons protectively around the Spicer family. It was one for all and all for one. They joined forces in the fight to whip cancer.

    At the Link To Pink a packed arena and a live TV audience fell in love with Rachel Spicer and her mother, Mickie. The Gator team came onto the floor for warm ups wearing pink tee shirts that read, “I wear pink for Mickie”. Spicer’s shirt read, “I wear pink for Mom”.

    When Spicer was introduced she acknowledged the cheers of the enthusiastic crowd and then pointed, with both hands, at her mother sitting in the family section of the gym. Her mother, “Mama Spice” as she is affectionately known by the Gator team, was easy to recognize. She was the attractive lady who was wearing a hot pink wig to cover the loss of hair caused by her chemotherapy. 

    Rachel Spicer turned in a dazzling performance. On the floor exercise, the Gator’s final apparatus of the evening, she scored a near perfect 9.925. She ended that routine with a two-handed salute to her mom in the stands. Her mother rose and returned the salute.

    After the meet Spicer pointed out this was her fourth Link To Pink. She said she always enjoyed the special meet and the opportunity to focus attention on breast cancer awareness. This year she said she competed not only for her mother but also for everyone stricken with cancer. As her voice trailed off she said joining her mother in striking a blow in the fight was really special.

    The performance of the Gator team was magnificent. The team scored 198.125. That is the third highest score tallied by any team in the nation this season. The victory was a team effort. Kytra Hunter, Bridget Sloan, Kennedy Baker, Alex McMurtry, Bridgette Caquatto, Claire Boyce, and Kiersten Wang also posted All American performances.

    As part of the Link To Pink salute, the Gator team visited the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge in Gainesville. The team provided inspiration as they served dinner to cancer patients and their care givers. Residents at the Lodge called the gymnastics team “magic medicine”. They said the team is a special tonic and a powerful force in inspiring them to stay positive in their fight against cancer. The residents seemed to draw courage from the athletes and vowed to never give up in the fight.

    The support of the Gator Nation was evident at the dinner. Former Gator football player and prominent Gainesville attorney, Bill Allen and his wife Ginny, were invited to the dinner. Ginny is a cancer survivor and members of her family have survived breast cancer. The Allens were there to meet and talk with Rachel Spicer. They were able to give her confidence in her mother’s full recovery as only someone who has fought and won the fight can.

    It is not unusual for this Gator team to make a difference. They are Back-to-back national champions and are currently ranked number three in the nation. They are national champions in the arena and world champions in life.

    Coach Rhonda Faehn is the architect of the magnificent Gator gymnastics championship program. In her thirteen years as head coach she has routinely produced champions and first class citizens at Florida. She is aided by outstanding assistant coaches Adrian Burde and Robert Ladanyi.

    This year the awesome Gator team is going for a “three-peat”—three national championships in a row. Their chances of winning the title again in 2015 are good. Win or lose, they will always be champions to the thousands they inspire. Just ask the folks at Hope Lodge, or the fans in the arena, or those in the national television audience who fell in love with them at the Link To Pink on Friday night.