Gymnastics team advocates breast cancer awareness

Sophomore Natasha Sundby scored the Sun Devil's first 9.900 of the season for her floor routine at the Jan. 25 meet against UCLA. The gymnasts wore pink leotards to promote breast cancer awareness. (Photo by Sam Rosenbaum)

Sophomore Natasha Sundby scored the Sun Devil’s first 9.900 of the season for her floor routine at the Jan. 25 meet against UCLA. The gymnasts wore pink leotards to promote breast cancer awareness. (Photo by Sam Rosenbaum)

Gymnastics, more than perhaps any other sport, exposes an athlete’s entire body to exacting scrutiny.

A gymnast’s task is to perform seemingly impossible, physics-defying feats of strength and grace. Then they are judged on the placement and balance of every joint, muscle and appendage.

The form and shape of a gymnast’s body is not only visible to all but is constantly subjected to excruciating appraisal.

The gymnast, therefore, must be extremely aware of her own body. The ASU gymnastics team hoped to promote an even more important kind of body awareness Friday night. At their Pink Meet, the gymnasts sought to champion the life-saving importance of breast cancer awareness.

The unusually young Sun Devil squad welcomed No. 4 UCLA to Wells Fargo Arena Friday night and was coming off one of its best performances in recent memory. The team hoped to continue proving themselves against some of the best competition the country has to offer.

This meet meant more to the Gym Devils than the average meet. It was a chance to do something important.

“We have the ability to be on a platform and have people looking up to us,” assistant coach Kari Ward said, “Anytime we can advocate support for such a great cause, it’s really special.”

Coach Ward, a former gymnast at ASU, knows how important it is to get tested.

Annabeth Eberle, a former gymnast at the University of Utah against whom Ward competed, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010 when she was only 27.

Because she got checked, the cancer was diagnosed early. When the Sun Devils visited Salt Lake City in February 2011, Eberle was honored at a breast cancer awareness meet named in her honor. According to Ward, Eberle was “doing great.”

The Gym Devils were excited to wear new pink leotards, but were also happy to have the chance to honor people affected by cancer. The gymnasts wore the name of someone who had been touched by the disease on the back of their warm-up jackets.

Sophomore Natelle Gentile wore the name of her grandmother, Fortunata Gentile, for whom she was named.

“My dad said she’d had the cancer before they came here (from Italy),” Gentile said.

Though Fortunata died before Natelle was born, it was important to the sophomore to get a chance to honor her namesake.

Cancer awareness also hits close to home for Maggie Emmons, the sports information director for the team and one of the organizers of the Pink Meet.

“My dad wouldn’t be here if not for preventative care,” Emmons said. “This is about more than just breast cancer; we want to raise awareness for everyone that being tested is important.”

Emmons also works for the women’s golf team and spoke emotionally about the impact associate head golf coach Missy Farr-Kaye has on the cause. Heather Farr, Farr-Kaye’s sisterand a Hall of Fame golfer at ASU, died of breast cancer at 28. Farr-Kaye herself is a two-time breast cancer survivor.

“She’s such an inspiration,” Emmons said of her sister. “She was so strong, going through so much.”

Coach Farr-Kaye addresses the cause of awareness from many angles.

“Every team does a great job doing different ‘pink-outs,’ and being really supportive of breast cancer awareness,” Farr-Kaye said. “I try to be a bit of an ambassador when I can, as a survivor, and let people know that you can beat the disease and move forward. That’s what my message has been, and I share that with my team and with the other athletes I come across.”

Farr-Kaye was diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time five years ago in the middle of her 11-year tenure with ASU.

“I was 21 when my sister was diagnosed, and now being a survivor of it, you try to figure out why and what good could possibly come from this,” Farr-Kaye said. “You’ve got to figure out what to do positively from a very tragic situation, and I thought one thing I can do is send a message to people and be a face of survival.”

For the gymnasts, Friday’s Pink Meet was a reminder to themselves how important it is to be as aware of your body, both on and off the mat.

 

Reach the reporter at cuyler.meade@asu.edu