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Gymnast's life veers from the routine

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We hear it often in the sports world, but it really has more to do with life in general. How are you going to respond to adversity?

Whether that adversity is self-inflicted is not the point. A friend of mine used to say, “You’ve got two hands, what are you going to do about it?”

Danielle McDermott received news that typically produces joy. She was pregnant.

McDermott was a freshman at Columbus Signature Academy.


“I thought my life was over,” she said, her memory flashing back to the moment. “I was nervous and scared. People always were staring at my belly. I thought it was the end of the world; but really, it was the beginning.”

Now a 19-year-old senior gymnast for Columbus North High School, McDermott has faced adversity and worked her way through a slice of life that for most teenagers would be care free.

The responsibilities of being a mom, along with working a job at Dairy Queen and being one of North’s best all-around gymnasts, wear her down at times.

“I cry once a week,” she said with a smile. “It can be hard living two lives in one.”

McDermott isn’t complaining but rather explaining how things have changed for her. Her 2-year-old daughter, Caydence, is her joy, and if Caydence causes her some additional stress, so be it.

She decided during her pregnancy that she would tackle challenges as they came along. Going to the doctor for a ultrasound, she was undecided whether to give her baby up for adoption. After the ultrasound, she received some heartbreaking news; there was no heartbeat.

“I started crying,” McDermott said. “I loved her so much.”

It turned out that the test was flawed and everything was fine. But the shock of the moment cemented her decision. She was going to be a mom.

She gave birth during her sophomore year and found that things had to change if she was going to move forward.

“I was going down a bad road,” she said of her freshman year when she got poor grades and had no direction in life. “I was doing things I shouldn’t have been doing.

“Caydence saved my life.”

With her mom, Sherry Barthlow, helping her, she forged ahead, working to become a better student. The money she earned from her job went toward diapers instead of music or clothes.

Then she had to decide whether to continue her gymnastics career. For years as a member of Jody’s Gymnastics, she had piled up medals as a top competitor who had reached Level 9 but then burned out on the sport. She competed at Columbus North her freshman season and was doing well when she had to stop competing due to her pregnancy.

Her sophomore year, she thought that gymnastics was out of the question, but her grandparents, Bev and Ken McDermott, stepped forward and said they would help with Caydence during practices and meets.

“They knew how much I loved it,” McDermott said.

Of course, she had some challenges.

“Body image is a part of it,” Columbus North coach Sandy Freshour said. “These girls work out in leotards.

“That sophomore year was so hard for her. It was a metamorphosis. She had to work her butt off.

“I’m sure she didn’t like every moment of every day, but I think she truly enjoys Caydence. She also is the first to say, ‘I made a mistake.’ and she is trying to hold it together.”

She did have the help of both her classmates and her teammates.

“At CSA, the classes are smaller, and it is more like a family,” she said. “My best friend, Betsy Harkless, has been through everything with me. And these girls (on her team), they are family.”

North senior gymnast Chelsea Wieland admires McDermott for pulling all aspects of her life together on a daily basis. That being said, she is glad she doesn’t have similar responsibilities.

“I look up to her being able to manage that and Caydence is great,” Wieland said. “There will be a time for me (to have children). But it’s enough worrying about normal teen-age things.”

Unfortunately, McDermott’s load has gotten heavier the past couple of weeks. She sprained her right ankle badly in warmups for the March 1 sectional meet at Columbus East High School when she landed a vault and bounced forward, her foot going off the end of the mat and twisting.

Although she hasn’t had a lot of injuries over the years, her right ankle has given her problems before — “although it usually takes about a week to heal,” she said.

This injury has been different. She still can’t run to perform a vault, and the state championship meet is Saturday at Ball State University. It is likely she will be able to compete on only the uneven bars and balance beam at the state meet, which is devastating for North, which figured to be a strong contender for a top three finish as a team.

“This will be the last time I ever can do this,” she said.

Freshour worries about McDermott.

“I feel so bad for her because gymnastics gives her back a teeny part of her childhood,” Freshour said.

Life can be tough at times, but McDermott survives. She wants a successful future for herself and for Caydence. She hopes to attend IUPUC in the fall to take up nursing, and for Caydence, there already is a little balance beam in the house.

“I wouldn’t trade my life for anything,” she said.

Mom, and that beam, can provide some important information to Caydence.

When you fall, it might hurt, but you can get back up.

Jay Heater is The Republic sports editor. He can be reached at or 379-5632.

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