In a SEC school with 17 different varsity sports teams, it’s difficult to find a bond like the Gators gymnastics and diving teams’ camaraderie.
The two UF teams have developed an unparalleled connection beyond the realm of competition to make true memories off the mat and out of the water.
This unique relationship started last summer when both teams shared the same weight room schedule. The Gators began working out together almost every day and found themselves enjoying each other’s company.
“We just worked out together and had a great time, because workouts were more chill,” said former Florida gymnast Leah Clapper. “It started forming a connection between the teams.”
During their training sessions, they took notice of the commonalities between the two sports and wanted to test their limits in the others’ discipline.
“Basically, I had the idea that I wanted to jump off the 10-meter diving board at some point in the summer,” Clapper said. “So one day in the weight room, we scheduled a time to go and practice with the divers, just to mess around, and had the best time.”
The athletes began to film “Gym versus Dive” videos showcasing their skills in the others’ sport. The videos earned over four to five million views on Instagram.
Both teams viewed the videos as an occasion to challenge themselves while getting to know each other.
“It was just really hilarious switching sports,” she said. “The videos started going really viral. That was kind of the start of it.”
The teams’ biggest fans became each other. The athletes championed their support by showing up to the others’ meets.
Skip Donald, a senior Gators diver, explained how having the gymnasts at the meet felt different because they understood the sport like no one else.
“You don't get that kind of relationship with a football player and a soccer player or a basketball player and a baseball player, but gymnastics and diving are very similar," Donald said.
Their shared understanding of their individual sports fostered a sense of mutual respect for both disciplines.
“Knowing that we have a group of friends that does kind of a similar aspect as we do, it makes us feel good that they come to watch us,” he said.
At the gymnastics meets, the divers sat with many of the gymnasts’ family members to shout their endless support for the team.
“Those girls don’t see their family every day, but they see us every day,” Donald added. “So then when we sit with their family … it’s more of a comforting feeling.”
With such regular attendance at each others’ meet, the athletes have adapted new views to their own sports.
Riley McCusker, a sophomore gymnast, explained how her own perspective on gymnastics altered after observing the divers’ technique.
“Both of our sports are very similar in the fact that we're very execution based, which isn't like other sports,” McCusker said. “Certain skills are different, but it gives you an appreciation.”
While her approach to gymnastics didn’t change, observing the divers garnered a new appreciation for the sport for McCusker.
Likewise, the divers heavily appreciate gymnastics because diving was rooted in the sport. Many of the divers began in gymnastics and then switched sports for personal reasons.
Senior diver Anton Svirskyi recognized the importance of gymnastics in his sport.
“Gymnastics is definitely the backbone of the sport,” he said. “I feel like the farther you go, especially in college, the more you pull away from that.”
Practicing gymnastics with the team and watching them provided him an opportunity to revisit the essentials.
“But when you get older, your body gets a little bit stronger and you devote less time to gymnastics,” Svirskyi said. “So it was really nice to kind of reintroduce ourselves to gymnastics to help showcase our abilities then.”
The relationship goes further than friendship for Svirskyi.
The diver met his girlfriend, Rachel Baumann, in the gym while she was on the UF gymnastics roster.
“She walked in and Riley McCusker and Leah Clapper introduced us and the relationship went from there,” he said. “The relationship between gymnastics and diving has definitely made a huge impact on our lives and we couldn’t be more grateful for it.”
The relationships among the team definitely go beyond the spheres of their sports. Both teams make efforts to build connections as people before athletes.
Junior diver Carina Lumia said she met some of her closest friends on the gymnastics team.
“If you would have told me that I would be really good friends with the girls on the gymnastics team, I probably would’ve thought that you were crazy,” Lumia said. “But those are my girls.”
Contact Krisha Sanghavi at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @krishasang.
Krisha Sanghavi is a third-year public relations and economics major. In her free time, she loves cheering on Miami sports teams and spending time with her friends.