A Night of Inclusion, When Gymnastics Needed It Most

A Night of Inclusion, When Gymnastics Needed It Most

It was a tough, yet important week for gymnastics.

UNC defeated Temple at Carmichael Arena in front of nearly 2,000 — an audience that included Chancellor Carol Folt and Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham. The Tar Heels controlled the scoreboard by putting on top performances during each routine, but Friday’s meet had little, yet everything to do with this week, which saw horrific headline after horrific headline regarding USA Gymnastics’ blind-eye to sexual assault.

Sure, Carolina Gymnastics now sits at 1-1 and faces a road stretch on its schedule. Sure, the team needs to be cleaner on the beam and hope to find some depth on the uneven parallel bars should it attempt to truly compete come the post-season. 

Some things just transcend sports and scoreboards altogether, and UNC’s dedicated night to inclusion and diversity did just that.

UNC gymnasts wearing “EQUALITY.” T-shirts celebrate a win over Temple University, and inclusion and diversity, with Chancellor Carol Folt | Photo by Bryce Lapping

UNC gymnasts wearing “EQUALITY.” T-shirts celebrate a win over Temple University, and inclusion and diversity, with Chancellor Carol Folt | Photo by Bryce Lapping

Lemke speaks out

This past week might have been the most important in the history of the sport. Thus far, dozens of women have testified at the sentencing hearing of Dr. Lawrence “Larry” Nassar, detailing the horrific acts the former trainer for USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University is accused of committed. 

Former UNC gymnast Lindsey Lemke was one of the many who testified against her alleged assaulter. Lemke transferred from Carolina to Michigan State after the 2014-15 season, returning to her home state of Michigan. She grew up in Holt, Mi., where Nassar lived close by, according to UNC head gymnastics coach Derek Galvin. 

No present member of UNC gymnastics experienced abuse by Dr. Nassar, Galvin said. 

Lemke was one of the first gymnasts to come forward about Nassar in January 2016. After her mother read a statement for her earlier in the week, Lemke addressed Nassar and his enablers on Thursday. 

“Larry, I hope you, Lou Anna Simon, Kathie Klages, John Geddert and all of USA-G are scared,” she said, closing her statement. “You have pissed off the wrong army of women.”

Simon is the president of Michigan State University. Klages, who recently retired after being suspended for her role as an enabler during the numerous assaults, is the former head women’s gymnastics coach there. Geddert, whom she addressed during her impact story, runs the high-profile USA Gymnastics club Twistars, which is located in Lansing, Mi.

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Former UNC gymnast Lindsey Lemke posted her remarks to John Geddert, an enabler of Dr. Larry Nassar who runs Twistars, on Twitter. Lemke’s mother said in a statement this week that Nassar’s abuse started when Lemke was 10.

Former UNC gymnast Lindsey Lemke posted her remarks to John Geddert, an enabler of Dr. Larry Nassar who runs Twistars, on Twitter. Lemke’s mother said in a statement this week that Nassar’s abuse started when Lemke was 10.

Lemke, who is no longer a member of the Michigan State gymnastics team due to a career-ending back injury, is still enrolled as a student. She plans to attend every remaining day of the hearing to support fellow survivors. 

“To USAG, Twistars & MSU (specifically John Geddert, Kathie Klages & Lou Anna Simon) - I hope you were listening today to the amount of pain & hurt you have caused so many people,” Lemke wrote on Twitter. “Maybe now you will step up & hold yourself accountable for what you have done. You’re all responsible.” 

Celebrating inclusion and diversity

Senior all-around gymnast Morgan Lane finished her routine on the balance beam Friday night, sticking the landing, and, oh, did she know it. More importantly, she became the holder of the “stick shades,” a new tradition where a gymnast who sticks her landing gets to wear the trophetic sun glasses, similar to Miami football’s incredibly popular turnover chain. 

“I was like, ‘I stuck it! I get the shades!’ and then (teammate Alexis Allen) went right after me,” Lane said. “She stuck her landing cold. She stuck the whole beam routine and I was like, ‘Ugh, I have to give up the shades!’”

Then Khazia Hislop stepped up to the beam and earned the shades for herself. After the meet, Galvin said the “stick shades” add to the fun.

Sophomore Khazia Hislop earned scores of 9.825, 9.850 and 9.800 on the vault, beam and floor, respectively. Hislop scored a 9.95 last weekend on the floor, earning a perfect 10 from a judge | Photo by Jeffrey Camarati

Sophomore Khazia Hislop earned scores of 9.825, 9.850 and 9.800 on the vault, beam and floor, respectively. Hislop scored a 9.95 last weekend on the floor, earning a perfect 10 from a judge | Photo by Jeffrey Camarati

“We wanted to do some fun things, something different,” he said. “We also have a bicycle pump over here with a Carolina Gymnastics sticker on it to ‘pump them up.’” 

“This is such a demanding sport, physically and mentally. If you don’t have fun with it in the process, why work that hard?” 

But such fun seemed to take a backseat to the story of more than 100 survivors of Nassar’s assault. Lane spoke fondly of growing up around the sport, heartbroken for those who couldn’t speak of it the same way. 

“It’s hard for me to believe, I think just because I live in a very naive world,” she said. “Someone taking those other little girls’ joy away just breaks my heart ... I think about my early years in gymnastics with such fond memories, and thinking that not everyone in the sport can do that tears me apart.”

UNC championed a night celebrating inclusion and diversity throughout the meet, much so in alignment with movements throughout the past year such as the Women’s March and #MeToo movement, during which thousands of women have revealed horrific stories detailing sexual assault and harassment they have faced.  

“It’s close to home — it’s real close to home,” Galvin said, recalling the time Lemke spent at UNC. “It’s one of the saddest and, at the same time, most disgusting situations you could ever imagine. These gymnasts and their coaches trusted a man who was a manipulative predator.”  

Galvin paused, searching for the words to say, allowing the thuds of the facilities crew deconstructing the gymnastics floor to echo throughout Carmichael Arena.  

“It has impacted those young ladies in ways that I can’t even imagine,” he said. “I think by what’s happening this week and so many young women coming forward and having the opportunity to address him — I hope that it helps in the healing process.”   

Galvin, who has coached gymnastics at UNC for more than 35 years, seemed devastated as he talked.

“Nothing like this has ever happened in sports,” he said. “For it to be a sport that’s defined by beauty for something so ugly to happen really is disappointing ... It’s certainly having an impact on gymnastics at every level.” 

Galvin said he's repeatedly told his team to never allow anyone to manipulate them and to always seek an ally should they run into uncomfortable and/or threatening situations.  

On a night dedicated to inclusion and diversity, Galvin printed out copies of a notable Maya Angelou quote and gave them to each reporter present after explaining her message.

“Diversity is like a tapestry,” he said. “Every thread in that tapestry is equal. If we recognize the value of everyone and treat everyone equally, it enriches all of our lives.”

@brycelessgem

Cover Photo by Jeffrey Camarati