Gymnastics’ Power of Pink meet honors those affected by breast cancer

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Gymnastics’ Power of Pink meet honors those affected by breast cancer

By Hannah Saad

By Hannah Saad

By Hannah Saad

By Hannah Saad

James Ogletree, Staff Writer

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At the start of every gymnastics meet at Coleman Coliseum, each Alabama gymnast is introduced to the home crowd in recognition of her individual accomplishments, contributions to the team and perseverance through adversity.

Well, every meet except one. On Friday night, as part of the team’s 15th annual Power of Pink meet, each gymnast will be flanked by one or two breast cancer survivors, who will be recognized for their courage in a fight of far greater magnitude.

The moment will be especially moving for junior Shea Mahoney, who will walk with two cancer survivors she met while volunteering and interning at the Manderson Cancer Center, part of the DCH Health System.

A year ago, the team went to the facility to encourage cancer patients and tell them that the next meet was in their honor. Before she walked out the door, Mahoney was wondering about other ways she could help.

“The second I walked in there, I just felt very called to do something more than just be there on that day,” Mahoney said. “I really felt God kind of pulling me into that place.”

The two survivors who will be at her side on Friday night are the two she said she has connected with the most. One of them told the team last year that her goal was to be healthy enough to attend this year’s Power of Pink meet.

Mahoney, a communication studies major and advertising minor, no longer aspires to enter the medical field, but simply wanted to be a light in any way she could. She talks to patients during their treatment and helps outreach coordinator Jana Smith, a close friend with coach Dana Duckworth, organize and plan events and support groups for them.

“It’s been such a blessing to be able to go there and just be such a small part of that really truly incredible place,” Mahoney said. “If I’m stressed with school or stressed with practice, I walk in there and it’s kind of like a slap in the face like, ‘Hi, um, perspective here.’ (Life) might be stressful and it might be hard some days, but you’re literally here living your dream.

“To see the way they handle it with such grace and such strength, it inspires me to come in here and work even harder.”

The junior has personal connections to the cause as well. Two years ago she walked a family friend onto the “A,” the platform where the gymnasts stand during introductions, and her grandfather is also currently battling cancer.

Freshman Jensie Givens, experiencing her first Power of Pink meet, will walk with her aunt, who makes the trip from Atlanta for many of the team’s home meets.

“I can’t wait to walk her out onto that A,” Givens said. “I can’t really say (what it’ll be like) until I live it. But I imagine it to be just so thrilling and exciting and just so much love for the person standing next to you. … Alabama’s always been that school that’s gone beyond just the sport, beyond just gymnastics.”

This is the 10th consecutive year that the team has invited survivors to be introduced with the gymnasts and the Power of Pink’s 15th year overall since it was launched by former Alabama coach Sarah Patterson.

This year also marks another milestone: The DCH Breast Cancer Fund, which supports Power of Pink by helping to fund early detection and treatment of breast cancer, has surpassed $2 million raised in its history.

In 2018 alone, the fund enabled 76 women to receive visits, information and key resources, 204 women to be diagnosed with breast cancer, and 387 mammograms to be given to women who couldn’t afford them.

“When we can bring a smile to someone else and get outside of ourselves, you are growing as a person,” Duckworth said. “I’m a big believer that if we aren’t giving back, we aren’t getting better.”

As the ninth-ranked Crimson Tide takes on No. 2 Florida on Friday night, leap passes and pointed toes take a momentary back seat. Much will be the same as any other meet – the judges’ criteria, the routines, the chalk – but in a way, everything changes.

“It’s so much bigger than gymnastics; it’s so much bigger than any leotard I could ever put on or any score I could ever get,” Mahoney said. “The Power of Pink means competing and doing what I love for someone who’s fighting a way bigger fight than I could ever imagine. It’s doing it for the incredible ladies who inspire me day in and day out, who I have the honor of walking up on the A with. It’s doing it for the girl next to me. … Most importantly, the Power of Pink means heart and it means someone inspiring you and just doing it for something that is bigger than all of this.”