All supportive parents of college athletes want to be in the stands to witness their child achieve their childhood dreams.
For the Spicer family of Highland Village, this meant hopping on a plane to Florida or other SEC towns to cheer on their daughter, Rachel, a gymnast for the Florida Gators.
It’s a trip they made often. The plan was to attend as many meets as possible for Rachel’s senior season.
That plan became more complicated when Rachel’s mother, Mickie, was diagnosed with breast cancer in January.
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“It was challenging, but that was one of my main goals to still be a part of her season, her being a senior,” Mickie Spicer said. “I was pretty much able to do it, I missed a few meets, but otherwise I’ve been here.”
This weekend, Rachel — or Spicy as her teammates call her — brought her final competition to her parents by qualifying with her Florida teammates for the NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championship at the Fort Worth Convention Center.
It’s been a long road of competitions and chemotherapy for Rachel and her mother since the diagnosis came after Florida’s home opener against Auburn.
But Rachel used gymnastics as an escape from the concern surrounding her mother.
Through it all, she’s maintained a high level of competition throughout her senior season, matching her career-best score of 9.90 on the balance beam when the Gators played host to Texas’ only collegiate women’s gymnastics team, Texas Woman’s University, on March 13.
“I wanted us to be her escape, her time when she could know that her mom will be taken care of, but we’re going to take care of Spicy,” Florida coach Rhonda Faehn said. “I really think that she’s done an incredible job with balancing both situations and that’s really hard to do.”
Thursday, while her teammates sat and chatted with each other while waiting for their practice session to begin, Rachel sat with a teammate next to the stands, talking with a group of Florida fans, decked out from the tip of their feathery, spring-loaded headbands to their feet, in orange and blue. And Mickie was at the center of the group.
As more Gators fans streamed into the Fort Worth Convention Center, every one made a beeline to chat with Mickie — a celebrity status she’s carried since the team dedicated its “Link to Pink” breast cancer awareness meet to Mickie.
“I think it’s been nice to show her that everyone has her back,” Rachel said. “Not just me, not just my family, but literally the whole Gator nation and other people around us.”
This weekend, Rachel’s family, friends, former coaches and teammates will have the opportunity to have her back as she competes for a third consecutive NCAA team title in the final competition of her career.
“Some people coming to this meet haven’t seen me compete in gymnastics since I was 5 years old,” Rachel said. “I’ve grown a lot since the little girl doing forward rolls.”
Rachel, a graduate of Flower Mound Marcus High School, remembered back to her emotions during that “Link to Pink” meet against Kentucky on Feb. 27 when she turned in season highs on the vault and floor exercise.
“I feel like that meet, I completed with heart and passion out the wall for her.” Rachel said. “I remember that every single meet, not just the Link to Pink meet, I’m competing for her.”
NCAA women’s gymnastics championship
Friday through Sunday, Fort Worth Convention Center
Competing schools: Oklahoma, Oregon State, Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Nebraska, Florida, Stanford, UCLA, Michigan, Georgia and Utah
Notable: Since the creation of the event in 1982, only six teams have won an NCAA title: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma, UCLA and Utah