By Loni Gibson
Grady Sports Bureau
Just a few words made 13-year-old Chelsea Davis realize her life would change forever.
She and her mother were set to move more than 1,500 miles from Austin, Texas, to the nation’s capital to try a new training gym.
“You need to pack them (contact lenses) all, honey,” Peggy Davis told her daughter.
That’s when reality set in for the now 21-year-old Georgia gymnast — the move was just a bit too far.
The Davis family did not make that move. But continually adapting to new environments early in life helped Davis push through setbacks, injuries and coaching changes as a gymnast. Her adaptability even helped teach her that she could thrive at one of her least favorite gymnastics events, the uneven bars.
Entering today’s NCAA regional meet in Athens, the junior Gym Dog is ranked No. 2 nationally on bars with a 9.945 regional qualifying score.
“She adapts,” Georgia coach Danna Durante said. “She’s a fighter. When there is a challenge in front of her, she’s going to figure out a way to conquer it.”
Davis was one of four Gym Dogs named to this year’s All-Southeastern Conference gymnastics team after tying for second on bars at the recent SEC championship.
Gymnastics was ingrained in Davis from a very young age; she nearly lived in the gym.
“My parents decided to put me into a preschool that had gymnastics, dance and art,” Davis said. “I just really liked gymnastics and always had a knack for it, I guess.”
However, her career as a gymnast was not always filled with good health and superb scores. Davis was struck with her share of injuries.
“Her elite career was always one of injury and heartbreak,” her mother said. “She would fight, fight, fight just to get there and then right before the big thing she would be injured, feeling dejected and discouraged.”
Davis suffered an elbow injury right before she enrolled at Georgia. As the injury got worse, she continued to train, pushing through the injury, until she was forced to let a doctor check it out.
Davis also suffered a knee injury in 2006 that forced her to withdraw from U.S. championships. A senior national team member in 2008-09 and 2010-11, she was also out all of 2009 with a back injury.
After extensive rehabilitation, Davis earned a spot on the 2010 world championship team but didn’t compete after dislocating her left knee cap during a training session.
Recovering from surgeries and watching from the sidelines was boring and unfulfilling to Davis. She was determined to use her time efficiently, as well as to improve in some capacity. She spent her time recovering from her knee surgery working on bars — an event that was not always her favorite.
“It was the day after the first (knee) surgery and Chelsea was back in the gym — on crutches,” Peggy Davis said. “She wanted to do bars because she would not have to put pressure (on her knee). She begged and begged to do bars until I finally said yes.”
Persistence is one trait that Davis did not learn in the gym. Peggy said her daughter has always been persistent. Whether it was learning how to drive, convincing her mother to allow her to move out of the dorm or even to allow her to bring her dog, Princess Molly, to college.
In the gym it paid off. Coaches and teammates see not only her persistence, but also her determination and ability to adapt.
Davis also went through a coaching staff change after one season at Georgia. She was recruited and spent a her freshman year training under former Georgia coach Jay Clark, who resigned in 2012. She adapted to the change, but not initially.
“At first it (our relationship) was very business — all gym and all academics,” Durante said. “It was about us encouraging her in those areas to build that trust.”
Over the course of two short seasons, Durante built a strong relationship with Davis. Durante learned to look for the nuances of Davis’ personality and has watched her flourish not only inside the gym, but outside of the gym as well.
“She is one that seems very quiet and very reserved,” Durante said. “But I look over and she’s dancing up a storm, cutting up with one of the coaches or making a joke. (Her personality) brings a great deal of energy.”
International competition and consistent changes in her life have forced Davis to learn to compete for a team.
“I’ve seen her become very invested in the team and really understand what it means to be a team competitor,” Durante said. “Chelsea deeply cares about her teammates. I have seen her become very, very comfortable.”
Former roommate and junior Gym Dog Sarah Persinger remembers Davis being very poised but also shy and quiet until they really had a chance to bond with each other.
“She’s also really become a person I can count on, I know when I go to her, I’m going to get honest advice,” Persinger said. “She’s also so funny and fun to be around.”
Peggy Davis remembers seeing her daughter’s quick wit as a young 10-year-old. She says that her daughter’s wittiness is something that was learned in the gym. She remembers her daughter and her former elite coach in Austin participating in constant banter with each other. She says the jokes would range anywhere from talking about her scars from surgeries to calling her coach “Harry Potter” for having shaggy hair and round-framed glasses.
“If you don’t know her very well you might think she is insulting you,” Peggy said. “If you do know her well, you may think she’s joking when she’s really insulting you. You never really know.”
No matter what problem is thrown at her, Davis faces it head on, driven to rise above it and overcome it.
“If I had to describe her in three words it would be disciplined, witty and determined. When she wants something, she doesn’t let up.” Durante said.
The Grady Sports Bureau is part of the sports media program at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.