A4 Rachel Dickson

Rachel Dickson poses during her floor routine. The University of Georgia gymnastics team competed against Ohio State on Saturday, January 1, 2019, in Stegeman Coliseum. (Photo/Ryan Cameron rac86114@uga.edu)

With hopes and expectations set high for the 2020 season, Georgia gymnastics found it had limited time to celebrate new beginnings before taking a devastating blow.

Just days before the GymDogs’ first meet of the new year at the Critique Classic Invitational on Jan. 3, senior all-around gymnast Rachel Dickson suffered a season-ending Achilles tear in practice.

“It was a very difficult time for us. Watching it happen, my heart just broke,” sophomore Rachael Lukacs said. “I know me and [Sabrina Vega] were just bawling our eyes out. This was supposed to be such a special year for her, and I just wanted her to enjoy every moment.”

As a senior GymDog, Dickson’s roles on the gym floor and as a leader of the team are hard to replicate. Dickson was the lone returning all-around gymnast from the 2019 season. She leaves behind an open spot in all four events, which are swiftly being filled by her teammates ahead of the start of SEC competition against LSU on Jan. 10.

But with a bubbly and energetic personality, Dickson’s ability to cheer her teammates won’t stop despite her absence in competition.

“Having Rachel out, that doesn’t mean that her spirit and character is out,” Lukacs said. “This [injury] gives her more of an opportunity to let her characteristics come out and really go after it and bring us together.”

Dickson is described by her teammates as one of the loudest voices in the gym cheering her friends on. While being out for the season precludes her from earning points for the team, Dickson’s energy on the sideline will be important to morale.

Days after her injury, Dickson was already giving pep talks before the first meet.

“[Dickson] just exploded with motivation,’’ head coach Courtney Kupets Carter said. “I can’t wait until she embraces that part of herself because it’s going to make a difference for this team when she does.”

Dickson is one half of the GymDogs’ pair of seniors for the 2020 season. Her counterpart, Vega, is the sole senior competing this year.

“This is not an easy pill to swallow, especially being our senior year,” Vega said. “I still get choked up about it because we have been through everything together, but without her this team doesn’t run the same.”

The two hope to remain steadfast in their leadership of the team, even as Dickson’s physical role is now absent from the sport.

“It’s a shift in what kind of roles she’s taking for herself,” Vega said. “We still are collaborating and [she] helps me make decisions like what we’re wearing, where we’re going, what to say to the team. We’re still hand-in-hand with that.”

With only four upperclassmen on the 2020 gymnastics roster, freshmen and sophomores dominate the team’s lineup.

Georgia has not yet determined if Dickson will medically redshirt or graduate and leave the program as previously planned.

For now, the GymDogs are concerned only with her health and her altered role on the sidelines.

“She’s got such a great attitude,” junior Marissa Oakley said. “She’s still encouraging all of us, and we can tell she’s there for us. She’ll definitely be someone who’s right back into it as soon as she can.”

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