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Q&A: Sydney Snead reflects on GymDog career, future of program before final home meet

Georgia’s Sydney Snead smiles at the judges during her floor routine during a gymnastics meet between the University of Georgia and the University of Arkansas in Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Ga., on Friday, Feb. 1, 2019. (Photo by Lauren Tolbert)
Georgia’s Sydney Snead smiles at the judges during her floor routine during a gymnastics meet between the University of Georgia and the University of Arkansas in Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Ga., on Friday, Feb. 1, 2019. (Photo by Lauren Tolbert) Special to the Telegraph

Sydney Snead stepped up to her locker Tuesday afternoon to find a poster made by her teammates with pictures — found by snooping around on Facebook — to celebrate senior week.

She saw a picture of herself of middle school smiling for the camera with a clip in her hair, and a style that the Georgia senior said looked “so bad.”

“Who let me out of the house like that and why is it posted on social media?” Snead said. “I was so embarrassed of myself.”

It was a moment to laugh at years later as Snead celebrates her final gymnastics meet inside Stegeman Coliseum. She joins Gracie Cherrey, a retired gymnast who now assists the team with social media responsibilities, as the GymDogs’ lone seniors. To be expected, this week of preparation is all about them … well at least that’s the logical thought.

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Sydney Snead’s GymDog teammates made her a poster featuring photos from Facebook as the senior wraps up her time as a gymnast. Sydney Snead Courtesy of Sydney Snead

One of their final team dinners took place at volunteer coach Suzanne Yoculan Leebern’s house. The entree of choice was a nacho bar for all of the GymDogs to enjoy, but there was a caveat. Yoculan Leebern had a bowl for gymnasts to pick a responsibility out of: make the meal, clean up the meal or wash the dishes. Snead, who might’ve thought she could receive a pass due to the senior festivities, got the worst draw.

“I literally got ‘wash the dishes’,” Snead said. “Happy senior week to me.”

There have been plenty of memorable moments for Snead, and she will lead the GymDogs onto their home floor for the final time Saturday afternoon (4 p.m., SEC Network Plus). Before then, Snead spoke with The Telegraph for a wide-ranging discussion on her career, the state of the program and her future away from the sport. Snead ranks 10th nationally with an individual National Qualifying Score (NQS) of 39.545.

Note: This Q&A has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Looking back on your senior season to this point, what are some moments that stick with you?

An important point for me was coming in the fall and grinding. You put in all of those hours and numbers. The bond with the team was the most special to me as I got to know the girls. We all have the same goal and have been in a lot of meetings together — with and without coaches. Those have led us to where we are now, and that’s very special.

A team truly experiences what it takes to be successful when we’re going through those hard times. It was so hard with the conditioning testing, intrasquads and long workouts in the weight room. That was a crucial point because we all worked through it together. That was eye-opening, because I knew I was the only senior but had nine freshmen and two upperclassmen who would push me. All of us being united was huge and very inspiring.

You guys have spoken about ‘the fall’ a lot. What makes it difficult and where were your individual growths?

I took the entire summer off and was in a different spot than everyone else. I studied abroad and had an internship, so that was no gymnastics in months — I conditioned, but it’s not the same as flipping and doing your skills. I had to regain those skills, and I had done so as a freshman after my back issues.

The fall was all about getting those skills and doing them over, over and over again before putting a routine together. You’re also fighting for a lineup spot with nine new faces. That’s a competitive and healthy environment, but you’re always fighting and pushing. On top of that, we’re getting tested and doing a whole bunch because we need to be in shape. All of these little factors play such a huge role in the end goal, but it’s hard to see until you really experience it. It was so crucial and that’s why we are where we are at.

Throughout your career, there has been a lot of that hard work. Can you try and summarize it with your favorite memory at Georgia?

It is after meets when we are hanging out with each other’s families. We have that family feeling — whether it’s in the locker room after a meet or in the stands. That atmosphere is what Georgia is all about, and that’s what (head coach) Courtney (Kupets Carter) and Suzanne really push. It is such a key factor to be able to experience that.

It’s not only as an athlete, either, but we are treated like that as a person. It has been such a blessing, and that bonding is one of my favorite memories.

Speaking of coaches, you dealt with a transition from Danna Durante to Courtney Kupets Carter. What was that like and how has Courtney changed your gymnastics career?

She’s like our second mom here, and that’s so important for any head coach. We feel like we can go to her whenever we need something. Her goals are the same as ours, and it’s such a huge part that she’s experienced what we’re experiencing now. That’s one thing I love, because she’s had two children and works just as hard as we do.

That’s so motivating and makes us determined to say ‘hey, we really want this.’ We have learned so much from her, and I can’t even put into words how much of a leader she’s been.

Is she bringing Georgia gymnastics back to the level it was at?

Absolutely. Georgia gymnastics has such a great legacy, and we all have the same goals to bring that back. Those are expressed, because we know where it should be and where it can be. As athletes, we know that’s the goal and it boosts our confidence. You can tell there’s a change. That’s based on our gymnastics and how we approach the meets. That has been awesome.

What will senior night be like Saturday? How much emotion can we expect?

My family will be there once again, and they’ve been such a big support to me throughout my gymnastics career. I have had 20-plus people here for every meet, and it’s hard to think about this being my last meet here in Stegeman Coliseum — other than regionals. I am so excited though, because it’s against Utah and it’ll be a great meet.

The emotion will definitely hit me — not sure if it’ll be before the meet, during or after. It has already started to with the senior events and I’m realizing this is real life.

As the season ends, how do you want it to finish?

We’ve stated our goal as a team to finish top-three at nationals, but it’s about finishing on a high note. We want to win and win for us by doing the best we can do. Individually, I want to do that while enjoying it and soaking it all in. Every single moment, I’ve really tried to take it in because it will be over soon. That’s obviously so sad to think about, but I need to do my best for the team.

I wanted to touch on your post-gymnastics life. Expand on your summer internship with Nike and where that might lead you.

It was for tennis, and I didn’t know anything about it. I was willing to learn, though, because working at Nike is awesome. I went to Portland for a couple months to do sports marketing, and it was absolutely amazing. I was kind of like the middle man for the Nike-sponsored tennis athletes. I got to learn about the sport, but it would come down to things like shipping Serena Williams her shoes to Wimbledon.

I was like ‘Oh, OK.’ They’d ask me to ship the shoes to a certain address, and my mouth dropped. I asked ‘Does someone want to check and make sure I’m doing this right? That’s kind of a big deal and I’m not used to that.’ It was so cool to experience that, because I got to look into the lives of other athletes. I was able to relate and see that on a different level.

I’m now weighing whether to attend graduate school at Georgia and help the team another year, or go work in Atlanta. We’ll see where things lead me.

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