Mackenzie Caquatto, commonly known as “Macko,” is one of 12 names on the University of Florida’s 2014 roster. But sometimes the 22-year-old feels like she’s the only one.
“It’s hard when you’re tired and you’re having a rough day and you don’t have the motivation from the girls to keep you going or to push you through that practice,” Caquatto said. “That’s the only time I’ve found it to be really really difficult.”
At least one day a week Caquatto is practicing alone and most days she gets a late start, which forces her to stay after everyone else has finished.
“Everyone is usually finishing up by that time so I’m usually by myself on Thursdays,” Caquatto said. “But I come in and try to get my stuff done as efficiently and as fast as possible.
“It’s a tough schedule but the coaches are really great and they’ve worked with me and they’ve allowed me to come in later and they stay with me,” Caquatto said. “I feel like I’m treated like any other member on the team when I come in late.”
Caquatto makes this sacrifice for her only other passion in life: teaching.
“I’ve wanted to be a teacher ever since I was younger and I actually never changed my mind, which kind of scared me coming into college because everyone is like ‘I’m doing this, no I’m doing this’ and they’re changing all the time,” Caquatto said.
In December Caquatto will cross the stage, in the arena that’s been her playing field for the past four years, to graduate with a bachelors in elementary education. In December 2015 she cross the stage yet again to graduate with a masters in elementary and special education.
Currently Caquatto is in the second year of UF’s three-year ProTeach program. In her final year of the program, Caquatto will be placed at a full-time internship in a local classroom where she will put the practical skills she learned in class to us.
“Finally getting into the ProTeach program and then getting to work in the classroom with the kids I absolutely loved it and I know that’s my passion—after gymnastics,” Caquatto said. “It’s been a crazy schedule ever since I started this program but even the team, they’ve been there for me. Some of the girls will stay after if they have time and cheer for me and keep me motivated in the gym, which is really awesome too because it’s not always easy working out by yourself.”
But Caquatto is already working with students every Tuesday at Williston Elementary School. When she and her lead teacher, Ms. Roberts, dismiss their fourth grade students at 2:15 p.m. Caquatto rushes over to the O’Connell Center to catch the tail end of her team’s practices, which starts at 1:30 p.m.
“I think her becoming a teacher is actually like the cutest thing ever,” Bridgette Caquatto said of her petite older sister. “Cause she is a small little girl herself and she is crazy, she’s a kid at heart.”
Caquatto said she didn’t make a point of telling her students she’s a Florida gymnasts but one day when she wasn’t in class, a few students recognized her on a UF gymnastics team promotional wall poster. Since then a few of her students have made a point of attending her meets to cheer her on.
“Sometimes I’m like ‘Ah, they saw me in a leotard on Friday and now I’m here teaching them,’ that’s a little bit weird,” Caquatto said. “But I mean that’s just how the sport is.”
Balancing her two passions hasn’t been an easy task.
“Macko has, for the last two years, really carried on a very grueling schedule,” coach Rhonda Faehn said. “She would often come running into the gym at 4 or 4:30 p.m. when the team is finishing up and just knowing she’s starting to warm up and train. It’s hard because she’s basically training by herself with the coaches.”
Caquatto’s 2014 season has been unlike any other. She’s competed all around for the Gators at five of twelve meets so far this season—an impressive feat considering Caquatto sprained both her ankles during her sophomore year.
“Anybody really could have just said ‘my body’s done, I just can’t do gymnastics anymore’ and she has refused to give in and she’s refused to give up,” Faehn said.
After that Caquatto’s contributions were limited. In her junior year she competed on bars, beam and vault but not once did she make it to the all around lineup. That same year Caquatto scored a perfect 10 on uneven bars, she was the only Gator to score a 10 in 2013. Florida’s last perfect 10, before Caquatto’s, had been scored by Melanie Sinclair in 2009 on uneven bars as well.
“It’s really cool to think that you you’ve actually achieved perfection because ever since you were five or six, when you compete, that’s what you work for,” Caquatto said.
In her sophomore year, her first season competing after her sprains, Caquatto only competed on bars. In her freshman year, Caquatto competed all around three times. But Illinois native who said she considers herself an all around competitor (she is listed as an all arounder in the current UF roster) almost always competed bars, beam and vault when she wasn’t on the all around lineup.
When Caquatto takes to the floor with the top seeded Gators to compete in tonight’s session II of the 2014 NCAA Championships in Birmingham, Ala., she will be saying goodbye to one of her two passions. But she’s not giving gymnastics up cold turkey. In the fall Caquatto plans on volunteering as a student coach, much like Marissa King has done this season.
“Gymnastics has been a part of my life since I was two years old,” Caquatto said. “So I really don’t know much outside of it, or life without gymnastics.”
Follow Erica A. Hernandez on Twitter @EricaAlyssa