Hurst L.D. Bell gymnast Kyleigh Prather understands saying goodbye all too well.
“Last season was very emotionally challenging because my grandmother had passed away on March 20, just a couple of days before our district competition,” Prather said. “She was sick and in and out of hospitals most of the season.
“After she passed, I competed with two dates on my left hand the rest of the season, dedicated to her and my grandpa, who passed away in 2015.”
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Prather honored her grandparents with an all-around state championship for the Lady Raiders, arguably the premier girls gymnastics program in Texas. The team finished third, narrowly missing out on yet another state championship.
Prather was a part of the squad’s 20th state title season in 2016.
Now, she is preparing for what will likely be her final season of competitive gymnastics. She does not plan on participating in gymnastics in college, but if an opportunity presents itself, she said she would definitely love to.
It’s very hard to maintain our reputation, but knowing we are the team to beat is a good feeling.
In the meantime, she would love nothing more than to have an encore championship performance for her grandparents.
With all of that in mind, she is focusing on leaving Bell with her own legacy and enhancing the reputation the school has in the sport. She understands, however, the task may be her most challenging to date — and she loves knowing that.
“It’s very hard to maintain our reputation, but knowing we are the team to beat is a good feeling,” she said. “Coach [Debbie] Williams has a reputation of always coaching a good team, and that is pretty stressful sometimes.”
Williams recalled the moment Prather won state last season and her ever-humble attitude. She also remembers that Prather was already thinking about defending her title.
“As soon as she won she said, ‘Oh no, now it will be so hard to do it over,’” Williams said.
Williams also recalled the simple advice she gave a nervous Prather before the competition.
“I told her to just be clean and consistent throughout all eight routines [four compulsory and four optional], and she was,” Williams said.
Ironically, Prather didn’t plan on being a gymnast when she was younger. She started out as a cheerleader, but fate thought otherwise.
“I was a cheerleader and my gym closed, so they recommended Classic Gymnastics,” she said.
She competed for the club through her sophomore year, and still works out there. She also plans to return to the Classic team for one final year before graduating.
“I’ve gone to Classic Gymnastics since I was 7,” she said in reminiscent fashion.
In fact, she shared a special moment at state with a longtime friend from the club.
“Another highlight from state was getting second behind Demi Pursley on vault. Demi has gone to Classic with me and has been my best friend since we were little,” Prather said.
Prather scored in every meet for the Lady Raiders in the 2016-2017 season. Williams said she expects she will do the same this season.
“We count three scores on each event for team, so she will count for a third of our team score,” Williams said.
But as much as Prather knows how to compete and win, Williams said she is also the ultimate teammate.
“She encourages her teammates and is hardest on herself,” Williams said. “I expect her to be a great leader and role model to the incoming freshman and sophomores.”
Which is exactly what Prather has spent much of the summer doing.
“I’ve been practicing some and going to the gym to get stronger, but mostly I have been coaching and sharing my knowledge with aspiring young gymnasts,” Prather said. “I have not competed this summer. I have been at the gym coaching or practicing almost every day, though.”
And no matter how busy she gets, she always has her family in mind, as she proved last season and every other chance she has.
“Some of my hobbies are playing with my niece and nephew, Ashton and Paisleigh, and going to Chick-Fil-A,” she said with a smile.
Prather’s future beyond Bell gymnastics includes going to college, likely starting at either Tarrant County College or the University of Texas in Arlington, she said. It will also include a lot of hard work, without which she said she would have been able to honor her grandparents.
“I want people to remember that working hard will pay off eventually. It may take a while, but it’s worthwhile in the end,” she said. “Working hard pays off in all aspects of life, not just sports.”
In the meantime, however, she would like to duplicate the feeling she felt a few months ago.
“Winning district and state was incredible, and I know they would be so proud of me,” she said.