Athletics and activism go hand in hand.
For Florida gymnastics, this certainly holds true.
Every year since 2007, the Gators have hosted an annual Link to Pink meet at the O’Connell Center as part of a Southeastern Conference initiative to raise breast cancer awareness.
Decked in pink, both home and away teams take the mat clad in custom-made leotards, abandoning team color schemes in a showing of solidarity with both victims and survivors.
For the Gators, these contests have been nothing short of a glowing success.
Averaging 7,589 fans across nine editions of the event, Florida has yet to lose at a pinked-out O’Dome.
It will aim to continue that streak this Friday, as No. 9 Arkansas is set to make the trek from Fayetteville to take the Gators head-on.
But, for Florida’s gymnasts, the meet presents much more than an opportunity to bounce back from a disappointing loss at Georgia last week.
"Link to Pink is a lot more than just putting on a leotard and going to compete for the Gator Nation," senior Bridgette Caquatto said. "We’re competing for a cause bigger than ourselves and bigger than the Gator Nation. We love putting on pink leotards and there’s a lot more fans there.
"Really, the survivors are what help us get through the meet and everything."
One of those survivors is more than just a courageous backstory.
When Florida storms through the Gator Head at 6:45 p.m., Mickie Spicer will be among the throng of survivors flanking the team.
Mother of former gymnast and four-time NACGC Scholastic All-American Rachel Spicer, Mickie was diagnosed with, underwent treatment for and overcame Stage 3 breast cancer during the heart of Florida’s 2015 National Championship-winning campaign.
The saga is still fresh in the minds of Florida’s athletes, many of whom were close to Rachel and stood by her side throughout the ordeal.
"I’m pretty close to Spice, and I was able to comfort her a little bit during the struggle of her mom going through breast cancer last year," Caquatto said. "It really hits a lot of our teammates close to home. We all have loved ones that have been through breast cancer."
With a common rallying point, the Gators are poised to rebound, motivated by their former peer’s toughness in the face of adversity.
"Spice was one of my biggest mentors last year as a senior," sophomore Alex McMurtry said, "and she showed extreme strength — and so did her mom through the whole battle.
"I’m so excited to see them this weekend. Her mom goes all out with the pink wig. We’re going to be wearing pink for her, and it’s just a time for the Gator team and the Gator Nation to show our support for breast cancer (awareness)."
Contact Alejandro Lopez at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @ajlb95.
Bridgette Caquatto performs her floor routine during Florida's win over Alabama on Jan. 29, 2016, in the O'Connell Center.