It wasn’t until Courtney Kupets Carter was walking through bars routines at practice with her new volunteer assistant coach and former teammate, Katie Heenan Dodson, that she remembered they both earned world championship medals in the event.
Heenan Dodson took bronze on bars in the 2001 World Championships in Ghent, Belgium, and Kupets Carter was named bars world champion at the 2002 World Championships in Debrecen, Hungary.
Heenan Dodson and Kupets Carter would go on to compete together for Georgia — Heenan Dodson from 2005-08 and Kupets Carter from 2006-09. Heenan Dodson joined Georgia’s staff in July 2019. Now the two jointly coach the newest generation of Georgia gymnasts.
Heenan Dodson and Kupets Carter’s relationship remains close as they recall memories of when they were in the shoes of the current generation of GymDogs. The realization of how full-circle their paths have come shows itself when they guide gymnasts on the mat.
While they once competed alongside each other, their different personalities are apparent in the way they coach the gymnasts.
Their methods used to mentor Georgia’s gymnasts are rooted in the way they were coached in club gymnastics before they competed together as GymDogs.
“I think we have a pretty similar approach in how we coach and just our technique,” Kupets Carter said. “But it’s about approaching those techniques with the athletes we have.”
Kupets Carter and Heenan Dodson agreed they share the same key characteristic in their coaching styles — confidence.
Kupets Carter saw it in Heenan Dodson as a GymDog. Heenan Dodson can see it every time she sees Kupets Carter coaching or while they are trying to decide what to wear to the next meet.
Kupets Carter sends a definitive choice to her former teammate while Heenan Dodson replies with pictures of five possible outfits.
“If you can put that over into a gymnastics coaching perspective, I think that’s just she and I,” Heenan Dodson said. “It’s one of those things where we can meet in the middle and it works really well.”
Mere minutes after claiming a 2007 national title for Georgia gymnastics, Kupets Carter looked on in amazement as Heenan Dodson predicted with complete confidence that the GymDogs would secure another championship the next year.
“It was just so confident, and that impressed me to no end because that’s Katie,” Kupets Carter said. “She’s not saying it to be cocky, she’s saying it because that is her goal and what she is going to work for, and she believes that she’s going to get there.”
Kupets Carter didn’t know it then, but Heenan Dodson would later use that same boldness to aid the next generation of GymDogs alongside Kupets Carter.
“I knew Katie was going to be great because when I was a gymnast with her, she had this confidence about her that was so calm,” Kupets Carter said. “It wasn’t aggressive, she just knew it. What she brought to our team as a leader, she’s bringing as a coach.”
Kupets Carter describes her approach less in words and more of a sound — in the form of an excited shout.
When describing Heenan Dodson’s approach, the words come much easier. Kupets Carter said “methodical, collected and steady” came to mind.
“I think we complement each other well,” Heenan Dodson said. “[Kupets Carter] definitely has a lot of passion, which is a good thing. I do sometimes have to tell myself, ‘OK, you got to get excited because that was really good.’”
A calm connection
In the past six months, Heenan Dodson has made strides in building relationships with the gymnasts in her limited time as a volunteer coach living outside of Athens. In a volunteer assistant coaching role, Heenan Dodson attends practice about once a week, but the effect she has on the gymnasts is noticeable.
Rachel Baumann, a sophomore beam and floor gymnast, found solace in Heenan Dodson’s presence in a home meet after faltering on a turn in her floor routine. Before attempting her first pass, she locked eyes with Heenan Dodson off to the side of the mat and felt a wave of calm confidence come over her.
“She’s helpful on how to fix skills or this and that, but you don’t worry about it too much,” Baumann said. “She brings the calm to you, and you know everything’s going to be OK.”
Heenan Dodson predominantly trains gymnasts on floor. During her time at Georgia, Heenan Dodson averaged a 9.88 in her time as a GymDog, once scoring a perfect 10 in 2008.
The GymDogs recently hit their highest overall floor score (49.6) in three years during their meet with Auburn on Feb. 2. The GymDogs are ranked fourth in the NCAA on the event.
“She’s definitely one of those level-headed people I love having around,” senior Sabrina Vega said. “When she is [here], it’s a perfect addition to the team.”