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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Looking through rose-colored glasses can turn a routine gymnastics meet into something bigger.

Tonight, the Gators will transform their rosy vision into a heartwarming reality.  

When the Florida gymnastics squad takes on No. 13 North Carolina State and No. 23 Penn State in its annual Link to Pink meet at 7 p.m., typical splashes of orange and blue will be swapped for pink to raise awareness for the fight against breast cancer. 

The entire competition is dedicated to fighting the illness, and survivors will be honored and the crowd is encouraged to join the Gators as they go pretty in pink for the cause.

Gators coach Rhonda Faehn said the effort is special to the college gymnastics community, as the NCAA designated one home “Pink” meet for each college that carried a gymnastics squad after one of its own became a victim in 2003.

Faehn said that Talya Vexler, a 23-year-old gymnast at the University of Georgia, was diagnosed with breast cancer during her last year of eligibility.

Since then, the college gymnastics realm decided to do its part to raise awareness.

“It really has taken on a life of its own,” Faehn said. “We felt that, being a women’s sport, we really should take responsibility for our places in the community and things that we can do as a program to be able to raise awareness for the fight against breast cancer.”

Vexler is a survivor, and now an assistant coach for the University of Iowa gymnastics team.

But the disease’s impact hasn’t slowed down, even touching two current Gators gymnasts’ lives.

Senior Alicia Goodwin’s aunt and freshman Mackenzie Caquatto’s grandmother have both been successful in defeating the disease.

“It really hits home,” Goodwin said. “Breast cancer affects so many people and families. Personally having someone in my family who went through that, and even still today, there’s always the chance it could come back.”

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Caquatto said she told her grandmother over the phone she would be wearing pink for her tonight.

She said the older gymnasts told her the crowd that shows up in support of the meet is amazing. Last year, the meet pulled in an audience of more than 9,000 — the Gators’ third highest gymnastics attendance in history.

“They told me that you look up and it’s a sea of pink,” she said.

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