Entering their fourth season as out-of-state Gym Dogs, seniors Kaylan Earls and Cat Hires have built a home away from home in Athens.
Gym Dogs Earls, Hires grow closer in their home away from home
Georgia's Kaylan Earls performs on the floor routine during a gymnastics meet in Athens, Ga., Saturday, Jan. 5, 2013.
Earls, a Chicago native, and Hires, an all-around competitor from Tampa, Fla., have lived together since their first semesters at Georgia. The two experienced nearly everything a student-athlete can, from battles with injuries to bouts with homesickness. They worked through it all together.
After all these years, the place that once frightened two young gymnasts is now more like home than, well, home.¬†
‚ÄúThis really is home,‚Äù Hires said. ‚ÄúThis is my family away from my family. We get so close to each other with everything we go through with class and practice, and it‚Äôs tough.‚Äù
A full course load combined with practice and training is enough to make any freshman athlete stress, but try suffering a major injury while living 773 miles away from home for the first time. That‚Äôs what Earls, who ruptured her Achilles tendon prior to the start of the 2011 season, had to do.¬†
‚ÄúIt was really devastating,‚Äù Earls said. ‚ÄúThat was the first serious injury I‚Äôve ever had in the sport of gymnastics, so it was kind of hard for me to deal with, but I had so much support.‚Äù
Her coaches were there for her, as were her teammates. But it was her mother, Kimberly, that made the move that helped Earls the most. Experiencing constant feelings of homesickness, Earls was saddened by the fact her parents couldn‚Äôt come see her as often as she wanted. However, Earls‚Äô mother made the trip from Chicago to Athens to care for her the week after her surgery.¬†
‚ÄúAfter she left I cried because I missed her so much,‚Äù Earls said. ‚ÄúI think it just makes it harder because my parents aren‚Äôt right around the corner just to come and comfort me when I need them. So that‚Äôs where my family away from home comes in and helps out with that.‚Äù
At the time her family away from home consisted of her teammates, Hires especially. Hires was dealing with living away from home too, but she wanted to be there for her roommate in her time of need. ¬†
‚ÄúWe helped each other out a lot during freshman year because we had those freshman struggles,‚Äù Earls said. ‚ÄúWe were overwhelmed. Whenever we needed a shoulder to cry on we could always call on each other.‚Äù
Hires was that shoulder during Earls‚Äô recovery. ¬†
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs always hard and Kaylan made it through it, and she was in the lineup and ready to go,‚Äù Hires said. ‚ÄúI think that us staying together and working through it together really helped her and me. It helped me grow as a person, so I‚Äôm glad I could help her.‚Äù
Nowadays, those two are no longer 18 year olds, fresh on the scene and still figuring things out. Instead, they‚Äôre the leaders of a traditional gymnastics powerhouse. Their decision to sign with Georgia has proven to be the right one, and the two won‚Äôt forget what drew them to Athens in the first place.¬†
‚ÄúI mean the campus is just beautiful, and the chemistry of the team and the people here are just so welcoming; just that southern hospitality,‚Äù Earls said. ‚ÄúYou‚Äôre like, ‚ÄòOh, I love it here,‚Äô and when I came here I remember my hands were sweaty and I was like, ‚ÄòOh my goodness, this campus is just beautiful,‚Äô and the facility is one of the best. I was just really excited to get in here.‚Äù
Hires, who committed to Georgia the spring semester of her junior year of high school, had a similar experience. However, she wanted to carry on the legacy Georgia had that means so much to her now.¬†
‚ÄúGeorgia just has that tradition,‚Äù Hires said. ‚ÄúThey‚Äôve got the legendary 10 national titles and those awesome teams that came before us, and we just want to come in and carry on the tradition. I was just overwhelmed with excitement when I learned that I was going to be able to come here.‚Äù
Earls and Hires have undoubtedly had some unforgettable experiences together at Georgia, and this will be head coach Danna Durante‚Äôs second season with the two. Durante has already quickly picked up on the relationship between the seniors and how they contrast with one another.¬†
‚ÄúThey‚Äôre very different,‚Äù Durante said. ‚ÄúCat is very understanding and very comforting and very supportive, and that‚Äôs not to say that Kaylan isn‚Äôt, but Kaylan is very direct and very, ‚ÄòI‚Äôm going to hold you accountable.‚Äô And that‚Äôs just the way it is. Together, along with Lindsey Cheek, they are a very good mix of leaders. I‚Äôm so proud of the way they‚Äôve stepped into those roles.‚Äù
Earls and Hires lead the team in different ways, and through different personalities. They keep practices interesting, but Durante has to let their competitive natures slide from time to time. It‚Äôs just the bond they have.¬†
‚ÄúKaylan and I have a very interesting relationship,‚Äù Hires said. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôre really like sisters. We‚Äôre so close. Danna even notices. We bicker all the time, but it‚Äôs all fun and games. It‚Äôs never serious.‚Äù
While Earls and Hires have recently stepped into their leadership roles, they‚Äôve been stepping into each other‚Äôs rooms for years; often times uninvited.
It‚Äôs an interesting dynamic, the games they play.¬†
‚ÄúWe have these battles in our house where we will mess up each other‚Äôs rooms,‚Äù Hires said. ‚ÄúShe‚Äôll go in my room and I‚Äôll go in her room and lock the doors. I took all the clothes out of the closet and threw them on her floor and switched around her drawers and everything, and so it‚Äôs that kind of relationship. It‚Äôs a love-hate, but mostly love.‚Äù
On the competition surface, it‚Äôs all business. At the seniors‚Äô house, it‚Äôs something completely different.
Regardless, it‚Äôs the good times that have kept these girls so close over their four years together.¬†
‚ÄúIt really helps to grow and bond with all the girls and the coaches, and it‚Äôs just an amazing time,‚Äù Earls said. ‚ÄúI love being here and the atmosphere is great. I have so many friends, and I just love it.‚Äù