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.
“This really is home,” Hires said. “This 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’s tough.”
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’s what Earls, who ruptured her Achilles tendon prior to the start of the 2011 season, had to do.
“It was really devastating,” Earls said. “That was the first serious injury I’ve ever had in the sport of gymnastics, so it was kind of hard for me to deal with, but I had so much support.”
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’t come see her as often as she wanted. However, Earls’ mother made the trip from Chicago to Athens to care for her the week after her surgery.
“After she left I cried because I missed her so much,” Earls said. “I think it just makes it harder because my parents aren’t right around the corner just to come and comfort me when I need them. So that’s where my family away from home comes in and helps out with that.”
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.
“We helped each other out a lot during freshman year because we had those freshman struggles,” Earls said. “We were overwhelmed. Whenever we needed a shoulder to cry on we could always call on each other.”
Hires was that shoulder during Earls’ recovery.
“It’s always hard and Kaylan made it through it, and she was in the lineup and ready to go,” Hires said. “I think that us staying together and working through it together really helped her and me. It helped me grow as a person, so I’m glad I could help her.”
Nowadays, those two are no longer 18 year olds, fresh on the scene and still figuring things out. Instead, they’re the leaders of a traditional gymnastics powerhouse. Their decision to sign with Georgia has proven to be the right one, and the two won’t forget what drew them to Athens in the first place.
“I mean the campus is just beautiful, and the chemistry of the team and the people here are just so welcoming; just that southern hospitality,” Earls said. “You’re like, ‘Oh, I love it here,’ and when I came here I remember my hands were sweaty and I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, this campus is just beautiful,’ and the facility is one of the best. I was just really excited to get in here.”
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.
“Georgia just has that tradition,” Hires said. “They’ve 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.”
Earls and Hires have undoubtedly had some unforgettable experiences together at Georgia, and this will be head coach Danna Durante’s second season with the two. Durante has already quickly picked up on the relationship between the seniors and how they contrast with one another.
“They’re very different,” Durante said. “Cat is very understanding and very comforting and very supportive, and that’s not to say that Kaylan isn’t, but Kaylan is very direct and very, ‘I’m going to hold you accountable.’ And that’s just the way it is. Together, along with Lindsey Cheek, they are a very good mix of leaders. I’m so proud of the way they’ve stepped into those roles.”
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’s just the bond they have.
“Kaylan and I have a very interesting relationship,” Hires said. “We’re really like sisters. We’re so close. Danna even notices. We bicker all the time, but it’s all fun and games. It’s never serious.”
While Earls and Hires have recently stepped into their leadership roles, they’ve been stepping into each other’s rooms for years; often times uninvited.
It’s an interesting dynamic, the games they play.
“We have these battles in our house where we will mess up each other’s rooms,” Hires said. “She’ll go in my room and I’ll 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’s that kind of relationship. It’s a love-hate, but mostly love.”
On the competition surface, it’s all business. At the seniors’ house, it’s something completely different.
Regardless, it’s the good times that have kept these girls so close over their four years together.
“It really helps to grow and bond with all the girls and the coaches, and it’s just an amazing time,” Earls said. “I love being here and the atmosphere is great. I have so many friends, and I just love it.”