Gymnastics isn’t like most sports.
When a college basketball player’s career comes to an end, he or she can still go play pickup games at the local park.
When a college softball pitcher’s playing days are over, there are plenty of casual amateur leagues in which to play. Even tossing the ball around in the backyard is still an option.
But when a college gymnast competes for the final time, it truly is the final time.
There aren’t gymnastics leagues to join or places to compete for fun in local communities.
For athletes who have spent almost their entire lives within the sport, the change to life after gymnastics isn’t easy.
"I was so used to going to the gym every day for the past 10 years — it was just a difficult transition in my life," said Mackenzie Caquatto, who competed for UF from 2011-2014.
Since competing in a Gator leotard for the final time in last season’s NCAA individual event finals — she finished fourth on bars and 12th on beam — Caquatto has been pursuing a career in teaching.
Even though she loves that aspect of her life, she has still tried to find ways to be involved with gymnastics.
During the fall, she acted as a student coach at Florida, and she currently serves as the MC at home meets.
She also teaches private tumbling lessons.
But all of it wasn’t quite the same.
"I didn’t see the girls every day, I didn’t get to go work out, and it was a big change for me," Caquatto said. "I would go into the gym sometimes and mess around because I missed it so much."
Marissa King competed for Florida from 2010-2013 and experienced similar feelings after her collegiate career ended.
She didn’t want to give up the sport, so she applied for Cirque du Soleil while serving as an assistant coach at Florida.
But after not hearing back from Cirque du Soleil, she began to face the realization that she would need to do something else with her life.
"At the end of that year when I didn’t hear from them, it was kind of a wake up call," King said. "I kind of said to myself ‘You know what? I need to stop doing gym now. I need to start working towards a career.’ I didn’t want to. I felt like I still had more to give, but at that period of time I had no choice."
But luckily for King, she was given an opportunity to perform with the group during the fall and is now traveling across the world using the skills she learned while at Florida - along with some news ones.
She is one of the rare exceptions, however.
This year’s senior class at Florida will be faced with the same transition in the coming months, and both King and Caquatto know how tough it can be. But for now, their message to the current Gators is to make the most of every second they have left.
"I would tell them to enjoy every moment," Caquatto said. "Soak up every single time they’re out there competing. Leave everything on the floor."
Follow Graham Hack on Twitter @graham_hack24
Mackenzie Caquatto performs on the uneven bars during Florida’s 198.05-196.70 win over Georgia on Jan. 24.