Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
We inform. You decide.
Friday, December 01, 2023

REUNITED: Freshman Alex McMurtry enjoying short time with teammate, mentor Kytra Hunter

It was a typical training day in early winter: boring.

For a collegiate gymnast, the preseason isn’t fun, and it can easily become a mindless grind as you count the days, weeks and months until the start of the season.

Side by side stood UF gymnasts Kytra Hunter and Alex McMurtry, beginning a stretching routine before training started with the rest of their Gator teammates.

For Kytra, a senior, this was the beginning of the end. After already leaving a legacy worthy of being called one of the best gymnasts in school history, she was preparing to write the final chapter in her storied career that coming spring.

For Alex, a freshman, this was simply the beginning.

The beginning of a career filled with promise and expectation.

The beginning of her pursuit for a legacy all her own.

The beginning of the next phase of her life.

But it was also the chance to do something the then-17-year-old would never get to do again, something she had wanted to do since elementary school: compete on the same team as Kytra.

As the two continued to stretch, both girls locked eyes and exchanged a look. Not a word was spoken, but a single idea transferred from one to the other.

Neither knew what the idea actually was, but it was enough to cause both gymnasts to burst into laughter simultaneously — an uncontrollable laughter that lasted for a full five minutes. The scene was enough to cause anyone around to question the pair’s sanity.

But they didn’t care.

Enjoy what you're reading? Get content from The Alligator delivered to your inbox

Even in the monotony of pre-season stretching, Kytra and Alex were savoring every moment together in what would be a season Alex had hoped for long before either girl set foot in Gainesville.


Alex was always a special athlete, even as a toddler.

Her mother, Christine McMurtry, said she had "freaky" muscle definition and was weirdly strong for her age, and by the time she was 3 years old, Alex was already climbing swing set frames and every piece of furniture imaginable.

Christine decided to sign her up for gymnastics. It was the right choice.

Within a few years, Alex grew into one of the best gymnasts in the area and surged up the junior levels, competing with girls who were four, five and even six years older than she was.

She lived in Midlothian, Virginia, a suburban community of just under 50,000 people outside of Richmond, and her gym often needed to travel to find suitable competition.

As she got older, Alex and the rest of the girls from her gym travelled progressively more to find top-notch gyms to compete against, including neighboring states.

One of those states was Maryland, and Alex’s gym would frequently make the two and a half hour drive north to compete with Hill’s Gymnastics in Gaithersburg, a gym that has produced multiple Olympians and a certain Gator gymnast named Kytra Hunter.

It was there in Gaithersburg where the two first met — although met might not be the most accurate word.

"I was too scared to go talk to her," Alex said with a laugh.

At 16, Kytra was already a national champion in multiple events and well on her way to representing the U.S. internationally. For an elementary schooler like Alex, Kytra was larger than life.

"I was shy," Alex said. "I was not going to go talk to Kytra Hunter."

Instead, Alex admired Kytra from a distance, modeling how she competed after her elder of five years.

"She probably knew who I was before I even noticed her," Kytra said.

After a few months of cautious idolization, she got over her fear and started interacting with Kytra on a semi-regular basis.

The two became friends and would talk when they were together during competitions, but because of the age gap, they rarely spoke about anything other than gymnastics and school — nothing too personal.

After Kytra left to attend UF, the communication between them lessened. Alex kept up with what Kytra was doing at Florida and used her role model’s performances as inspiration, but the two weren’t particularly close while they were apart.

But that changed by the time Alex’s junior year in high school rolled around.


Alex had two difficult decisions to make when it came to college.

The first was obvious: where to go.

She wanted to go somewhere warm with a quality gymnastics program, and her top choices were Stanford, UCLA and Florida.

But she also had to decide when she wanted to leave. After getting ahead in school during her first three years, she had the option to forgo her senior year in high school and go straight to college.

It would mean sacrificing prom and other senior experiences, but it would also mean she would be able to start her collegiate career with one fewer year of wear and tear on her body.

And if she decided to attend UF, she would get a year to compete with Kytra.

When she made her official visit to Gainesville, Kytra made sure nothing was left to chance.


Alex McMurtry celebrates with teammates after her balance beam routine against Georgia.

From the moment Alex stepped on campus, Kytra was introducing her to the team, showing her around and simply making the teenager feel like a long-lost family member who had found home again.

"I think I definitely influenced her decision," Kytra said with a smile.

Alex’s mother saw the bond between them rekindled instantly.

"They were like best buds," Christine said. "They were just hugging and so happy to see each other."

After visiting with all the coaches and seeing the campus, Alex was pretty sure Florida was the right fit.

But she was still unsure if she wanted to make the jump before her final year of high school.

"Graduating early, yeah, I was really hesitant to do it at first," Alex said, "but even (Kytra) was like ‘You can do this.’

"I think that’s what I needed to hear."

The amount of communication between Alex and Kytra skyrocketed from that point forward, with both girls sending messages of motivation and encouragement every time either of them would have a meet — a surreal feeling for Alex.

"That’s when it really took off," Alex said of their relationship. "She would text me and I would be so excited to text her back."

She took her time to make the official decision, but she confided in Kytra a month and a half before informing the coaches that she was likely coming to Florida.

"It was hard to keep my mouth shut," Kytra said.

But she did, and six weeks later Alex made her decision official.

She enrolled that fall as a 17-year-old, and the relationship took off from there.


Kytra had to restrain herself on move-in day. She wanted to give Alex’s family space on such an emotional occasion, but it was hard to stay away.

"I knew she wanted to unpack my boxes," Alex said.

It was seemingly the last time there was any space between them.

During Alex’s first semester, the two were inseparable. They had dinner every Friday night, spent time doing nothing in each other’s dorms and discussed anything and everything that was going on in their lives.

"Even though freshmen and seniors don’t really hang out, she would just come over to my dorm and talk to me," Alex said.

They got to the point where words weren’t even necessary; they could spend long durations of time together in complete silence without a shred of awkwardness.

"We have a bond where we don’t always need to communicate by talking," Kytra said.

Their relationship only grew closer during the season, and despite the immense talent both gymnasts possess, each girl helped raise the other’s ceiling.

First, it was Alex. Both gymnasts have similar personalities, and by training together, Alex’s perfectionist attitude came out progressively more to match Kytra’s efforts.

"We’re like the same person," Kytra said. "She’s really hard on herself and pushes herself to the limit, and that’s something I do, too."


Kytra Hunter performs her floor routine during the Southeastern Conference Championships on March 21 at the Arena at Gwinnett Center in Duluth, Georgia. Hunter scored a 9.975 on the event.

As time went on, the coaches began to see more similarities between the two and raised their expectations for Alex.

"I know the coaches have looked to me to be a leader," Alex said, "and at first I was like ‘I’m just a freshman,’ but they were like ‘But you’re under Kytra, you can step it up and you know what you can do.’"

So, like with everything else, Alex led like Kytra — by example.

"I think our leadership roles are very similar," Alex said. "We’re not gonna be the ones who step up and tell the team what to do. We’re gonna be the ones who are working hard and doing extra numbers to make our routines better, and I think everyone sees that."

But as Kytra continued to mentor Alex, the freshman’s influence slowly began to manifest itself in the senior as well. Throughout her time at Florida, Kytra has never been the one to speak up. She’s quiet, focused and generally uncomfortable with telling people what to do.

But through the process of helping Alex, coach Rhonda Faehn began to see a change in her senior, a change the team desperately needed without junior Bridget Sloan for much of the year.

"(Mentoring Alex) has forced Kytra out of her box she’s been in, and she has really stepped out this year as a senior," Faehn said, "especially as a more vocal leader and someone who can help guide the younger athletes. I think it’s made Kytra more mature as both a person and a gymnast."


With only one weekend remaining in the season, a dream year for both gymnasts is coming to a close.

Alex leads the nation in vault Regional Qualifying Score, ranks 13th on bars and recorded the earliest perfect 10 in a UF gymnast’s career.

Kytra was named the Southeastern Conference Gymnast of the Year, led the nation in all-around RQS during the regular season and ranked second on floor. She also ranked second on vault, behind only her protege.

Without the two, Florida would not be challenging for a national title this weekend.

Without each other, neither girl would have grown into the gymnast and person they have each become.

But after Sunday, it will be over.

Kytra will graduate, and Alex will continue with her career on her own.

"It’s gonna be hard, especially next season I think it’ll hit me when I don’t have her next to me," Alex said.

Kytra has told Alex that she expects Alex to take over her role, but Alex isn’t really sure it’s possible.

"I don’t know, it seems weird to be replacing my best friend," Alex said.

For Kytra, the time following this weekend will already be emotional as she moves on to the next phase of her life.

Her gymnastics career will be over, and she’ll need to find a new career on which to embark.

But most of all, she’ll miss her time competing with Alex. While she wishes she could get another year with her, Kytra is thankful for the year they have had together.

But at the same time, she also realizes their relationship might grow apart as their lives take different paths.

"She’s like my sister," Kytra said. "She’s made large footprints in my life.

"But not being on the same team, our relationship will probably never be as close — it just won’t."

But Alex disagrees. Although she will have new experiences that she won’t be able to share with Kytra in the years to come, Alex believes the bond they now have is something more than a teammate relationship, something that will last no matter the circumstances.

"Something tells me we’ll be close our whole lives," she said.

Follow Graham Hack on Twitter @graham_hack24

Support your local paper
Donate Today
The Independent Florida Alligator has been independent of the university since 1971, your donation today could help #SaveStudentNewsrooms. Please consider giving today.

Powered by SNworks Solutions by The State News
All Content © 2023 The Independent Florida Alligator and Campus Communications, Inc.