Hulne: Packer senior gymnasts showed true leadership

Published 9:53 pm Monday, February 16, 2015

After competing in the last two Class A state gymnastics meets and being members of the first Austin High School gymnastics team ever to go to state, this year was supposed to be the icing on the cake for Austin seniors Carolyn Hackel and Abby Bickler.

The Packers even had the Section 1A gymnastics meet scheduled to take place in Packer Gym for the first time in Hackel and Bickler’s six years on the varsity squad.

Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned for the senior duo.

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Bickler sustained a season ending knee injury a few weeks back and Hackel sprained her ankle the day before the Section 1A meet — relegating both of the veteran gymnasts as spectators during the biggest meet of the year. But Bickler and Hackel weren’t satisfied with simply being spectators.

Instead of sulking or feeling sorry for themselves, they spent the day cheering on their younger teammates as the Packers clinched their third straight trip to the Class A state gymnastics meet, which will take place 11 a.m. on Friday at the University of Minnesota Sports Pavilion.

Hackel was bouncing around on her crutches throughout the day and Bickler was was walking around with a giant knee brace, but not one of them showed any signs of being disappointed or left out. Instead, they offered their full support to their team.

“It’s the least that we could do as seniors, captains, teammates and fellow athletes, just to come support, put on a smile and do everything we could to help them succeed,” Hackel said.

Hackel has a chance to compete with her team at the state meet if her ankle heals fast enough, but Bickler will once again play the role of supporter.

Every senior athlete wants to end their high school career competing in the sport they love, but the truth of the matter is it just doesn’t work out that way for everyone. Life isn’t fair and neither is sports.

Bickler and Hackel would like nothing more than to compete on the state floor last time, but they’ve handled their injuries about as well as one could. This is isn’t the first time Bickler has been hampered by an injury at the wrong time. When she made it to the individual state meet as a freshman, she was slowed down by an injury and wasn’t able to compete at full strength.

On Saturday, Bickler didn’t have time to feel sorry for herself as her teammates, some who haven’t competed much on varsity before, were battling nerves and trying to get the Packers back to state.

“The team is really important and the sport itself is really important to me. I just wanted to do everything I could to be here and support the team like they’ve supported me the last number of years,” Bickler said. “I’m really proud of the girls who stepped up and the girls who have been working hard all year in case we needed them and we did.”

Hackel and Bickler started off on the varsity team as seventh graders and neither of them showed any fear or restraint as they both competed on Austin’s first state qualifying team. That experience helped them become team leaders for the bulk of their high school careers.

They’ve seen intimidation in the eyes of some of their middle school teammates at times, but they’re quick to remind the youngsters that the team works together and the team’s main focus is to work hard and compete at a high level.

Bickler said she’s seen some promise in her younger teammates.

“I think I see a lot of drive in a lot of the girls and there’s a desire to be in the gym which is important,” Bickler said. “I think [Hackel and I have] kind of transferred on the will to win and the will to work hard.”

Hackel and Bickler could teach the next generation of Packers a lot about gymnastics, but they probably gave the best lesson they could give to their teammates on Saturday, when they showed support for their teammates while dealing with the frustration of being injured and not competing.

That kind of attitude can take Hackel and Bickler pretty far — in competition and in life.

Rocky Hulne is the sports editor of the Austin Daily Herald. Follow him on twitter @RockyHulneADH.