Georgia's meet against Kentucky on Saturday has been designated as the Gym Dogs' annual Pink Out Meet.
Feb. 17, 2012
By Aimee Russo, UGA Sports Communications
A quote adorned on the walls of the Georgia Gym Dogs training facility is not only an inspiration to the student-athletes, but is representative of the significance of the annual Pink Out meet.
"It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog."
A simple mantra, but the meaning is one that is held dear to the hearts of generations of Gym Dogs.
"I think there is a lot of meaning to the Pink Out meet and that meaning varies by individual," said former Gym Dog and current graduate assistant Grace (Taylor) Johnson. "But as a team we are fighting for women. We represent a strong women's sport and we represent a lot of that fight that women have in them."
The Gym Dogs program has been involved with a number of different causes, but the fight against breast cancer is one that hits closest to home. As the disease has touched the lives of millions, the Gym Dogs have seen the effects when former All-American Talya Vexler, who competed for the Bulldogs from 1999-2002, was diagnosed at just 23 years old.
"When Talya was stricken with the disease, it really brought to home not only breast cancer, but also how cancer in general really affects so many people," said head coach Jay Clark. "Just to be able to honor those people and continue to raise awareness is what our goal is."
Vexler's prognosis inspired not only the Gym Dogs, but NCAA Gymnastics to have every participating member institution designate one home meet each year as a Pink Out meet.
"It's something that everybody in the gymnastics community has gotten behind and it's something that we want to continue to stay involved in," said Clark. "I just think we are all trying to do a little bit to raise awareness and raise money and hopefully at some point wipe it out."
In partnership with Athens Regional Medical Center Breast Health Center, the Gym Dogs' Pink Out meet raises funds to benefit the center and breast cancer research. Also sponsored by ARMC, the Gym Dogs participate in the annual "In Their Shoes" walk in the fall each year.
"There are so many good causes that you can do these kinds of things for, but we have chosen the breast cancer cause because it is something that could affect one of these young women someday, and we want them to be aware, serve their community and be sensitive to those around them," said Clark.
The Pink Out meet is a prime example of the benefits of community involvement and the growing awareness of breast cancer. This kind of support is also what helped Johnson's mother, who was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer in November 2010, become disease free within one year.
"My church and my community back in South Carolina were there for my mom," said Johnson. "Through prayer, through her treatment and the support of our community and my dad, I think that there is the science, but there is a lot more that goes into a full recovery."
Now among the list of survivors, the stories of Vexler and Johnson's mother highlight the strength and perseverance that the Gym Dogs hope to promote through the meet. In addition to a pre-meet reception, breast cancer survivors will be recognized on the floor as they line the vault runway during introductions.
The Gym Dogs can be proud to be a part of a program that represents more than what can be seen in competition.
"If you're done with gymnastics and all you remember are your skills and your scores, then you've lost everything you were supposed to learn from it," said Johnson. "Gymnastics was definitely a tool that built character in my life and I'm grateful for it. My mom had that fight in her, too. She was in the Army, and I feel like once you develop perseverance, that's going to carry you through the rest of your life."
Note: Georgia's meet vs. Kentucky Saturday at 4 p.m. will serve as the annual Pink Out meet. 2012 Pink Out t-shirts will be sold at the Stegeman Shops with proceeds benefitting the Athens Regional Foundation. The first 2,500 fans will receive pink shakers, and fans are encouraged to wear pink. Breast cancer survivors will have a reception prior to the meet and will be recognized prior to the meet and line the vault runway for introductions.