As a photographer, it is difficult for me to describe the Michigan women’s gymnastics team in words. Their talent goes way above anything I could have ever expected. For several months, I’ve been photographing the team from warm-ups to post win celebrations, and have seen the story of their season unfold. I know this team deserves the recognition of all the accomplishments they’ve worked so hard for, which is why I wanted to share the story of their season. I am not an athlete in any capacity, but what I’ve seen behind the scenes, at practice, and at meets is the raw emotion, determination, and commitment that makes this team special.
The first day I photographed the team, it was Halloween and I had a meeting with Coach Bev Plocki. She offered me some of the candy that was laying on her desk, immediately putting me at ease. It was the same calm, reassuring energy that her team sees at meets before one of the gymnasts is about to complete a routine. This is Plocki’s 29th year as the head coach of Michigan’s women’s gymnastics team and it is easy to understand why.
Invested only begins to explain how committed she is to the team.
On the days I went to practice, I saw everyone come in and fire each other up. Every practice I went to, I heard a “C’mon Blue” or “Let’s Go Blue” echo throughout the gym every so often. As soon as anyone would land a tough vault, bar, beam, or floor pass, she was bound to get a hug or cheers from multiple teammates, whether they were at a meet in Crisler or just practicing at the gymnastics center.
The team is still a team even behind closed doors. They don’t do it just because they are at a meet or in front of a crowd. They do it because they are a family and want everyone to succeed as best they can.
I couldn’t describe to you how hard it is to do these routines — I’m not a gymnast or an athlete of any kind — but I can tell you that the team makes them look easy. My jaw often dropped at some of the passes and skills they can do on the spot. Anything from one-handed handstands to mid-air flips and much, much more, — these are elements it seems everyone can do in their sleep. It’s only proof of the time, dedication and sacrifice they’ve put into every day of the season and the commitment they have to each other.
And even when things don’t always go as planned, the team does not put their heads down. For example, many gymnasts release from the high bar in mid-air to spin and catch it again during their routine. There is always the risk of missing the bar and falling to the mat. But when this happened during their meet against Oklahoma, no one was deterred. Immediately after the bars rotation, the same gymnast was first up on the beam rotation and landed a 9.900 out of 10.000, just .025 from her highest score this season on beam.
Everyone is part of the team, whether they are performing in meets or cheering on a teammate. Injured or not, leotard or not, it makes no difference. Everyone still puts on make-up before meets, sparkles and all, and runs out during introductions at Crisler.
The energy everyone added to practices and meets is out of this world. The team would not be the same without each and every one of them.
From practice and meets to a regular season championship, and now competing for a tournament championship, this team is bound together. The scoring may be for individual events and routines, but it’s clear to me gymnastics is a team sport, through and through.