Sydney Snead did it flawlessly one last time. She ran down the vault runway, stuck her landing and let out one last yell as a Georgia GymDog with her arms raised straight in the air.
She was the final competitor of the night for Georgia as it bowed out of the NCAA national semifinals with a 196.4625 to finish in fourth place. Snead walked back to her team’s corral as emotions began to overwhelm her. One by one, the lone active senior hugged her teammates and was greeted by volunteer coach Suzanne Yoculan Leebern with a long, warm embrace.
A 9.9 score on vault, the norm for Snead, was raised in the air. It was curtains on the season and a career that finds its place in program lore. It was a meet to remember, too, from an individual standpoint as she made SportsCenter’s Top 10 with a stuck dismount on uneven bars and tied for eighth nationally on the vault routine.
“It gives me chills to think about it, because I always told myself to stay in the present moment and now it’s over,” Snead said. “It hit me like a train.”
Her love for gymnastics ended on vault, and it started on the same event. A 6-year-old Snead was playing around lightheartedly at a recreation center back in her hometown. She vaulted cleanly from a springboard and over the table. A bystander approached Snead’s mom and recommended a career in gymnastics.
Michelle Snead didn’t think her daughter would be great at it. That is, until, a short time later.
“Her first year, she won her state meet in first grade,” Michelle said. “We thought ‘Huh, maybe she really is talented.’”
There were 21 family members on hand to watch her career conclude Friday night. Many of them traveled from Raleigh, North Carolina, while a few others made a short trip from the Dallas area. Snead’s family joined in with the two full sections of GymDog fans and soaked in the moment at the Fort Worth Convention Center.
Snead’s family came together throughout her childhood to watch gymnastics unfold in her life over 15 years. They had stories about her past and present, and a few of them spoke to The Telegraph to illustrate her progressions and the significance of finishing a GymDog career.
Note: Messages from family members were slightly edited for clarity.
From mom’s eyes, Michelle Snead
Snead and her parents stayed in the same hotel throughout the weekend in Fort Worth. Years ago, it wouldn’t have been close enough. The now-departing senior had quite the angst in her younger days of gymnastics, and wouldn’t leave the grasp of her mother, Michelle Snead.
Snead would bundle next to Michelle in a hotel bed to gain a semblance of comfort on the nights prior to a meet. There was a slow process to overcome the fear that took nearly five years (although her father, Scott Snead, joked that it took up until Friday night).
“She learned how to handle her nerves as she grew up,” Michelle said. “It was about staying calm and focused as a gymnast.”
Over a decade has passed since those days started, and Michelle saw her daughter finish a transformative four-year career at Georgia come to a close. Snead walked away Friday evening as a confident, bold and encouraging leader with firecracker-like qualities. It was a tenure that closed without Snead having a sense of reservation in her soul.
Snead will enter a new phase of life and relate to sports in a different manner. Michelle beams with joy with confidence and sent her daughter off with an emotional kiss atop her head Friday night.
“It’s bittersweet. You’re excited for the next phase in her life, but sad that you won’t see her do gymnastics anymore,” Michelle said. “It has been such a great journey, and has been so much fun to watch and be a part of.”
Message from Mom: We are so proud of the young lady you’ve become. I’m grateful for everything this sport has poured into you. There are so many blessings that God will use from gymnastics as you continue through life. This has helped mold you into the person you are today. You should be so proud of helping turn this program around and scoring 198. You can remember that for life, because it doesn’t happen everyday.
From dad’s eyes, Scott Snead
Scott and Michelle were watching their daughter at a meet in Florida. This was the beginning stages for Snead and she was still learning gymnastics, but nevertheless her parents were stoked to see her perform on balance beam.
That is, until, a blooper-type moment happened.
“She was going to do a pass and ran off of the beam,” Scott said. “She jumped right off of it. We looked at each other totally shocked.”
Snead’s skills have come a long way since her days in Florida. Over the last two seasons, as Scott pointed out, she’s remained perfectly upright on balance beam.
Mom interjected — she doesn’t believe in jinxes but didn’t want that tidbit shared if Snead’s routine went awry during nationals. No worries there. Snead recorded a 9.725 (which was below her season average) and didn’t fall off.
Even if Snead were to fall, she was probably safe from a moment to that magnitude. Nevertheless, it’s something that her father could laugh at as he beamed (no pun intended) with pride about her daughter’s success. He has been there for most of her meets as the Snead family made trips from Raleigh, North Carolina, to “Destination of Meet X” a regular routine.
He saw the star-caliber scores that Snead posted. Scott saw an entire GymDog fan base that consisted of over 10,000 fans in Stegeman Coliseum each week admire his daughter. But something was bigger, and that something was shown as often as Snead’s middle pass.
“Her smile once she’s out there has to be the best,” Scott said, after admitting he’s praying about and struggling with the end of Snead’s collegiate days. “You see pictures and it’s just infectious. She enjoyed what she’s doing, and has used those abilities that God has given her. There’s a joy and you know she’s honoring God. It’s just special.”
From her siblings’ eyes, Tyler, Kaylee and Laney Snead
As the four Snead siblings — Sydney, Tyler, Kaylee and Laney — grew up in North Carolina, there were plenty of Just Dance competitions inside their household. They would show off their best moves to songs like “Price Tag” by Jessie J and display their vocals to “Under The Sea,” the famed song in “The Little Mermaid” film.
Let’s just say that it led to false aspirations for the eldest of the group. At least that’s what her brothers and sisters think.
“She thinks she’s funny,” Kaylee said as Laney recalled “Under The Sea” being sung on car rides. “She thought she was the best dancer out of all of us, and that she could sing too.”
Even though they aren’t fond of Snead’s video game dance skills, their favorite event is their sister’s floor exercise. Kaylee and Laney recalled the perfect 10 against Florida as her favorite GymDog moment. They were on the floor to watch it unfold. But their fondness of the event started well before.
Snead had a routine in which she mimicked playing the piano while in a seated position, and her siblings enjoyed that one the most. Laney would mimic every move on the routine as her GymDog teammates now hold that duty. And if Snead didn’t come home with a medal after a gym meet, Kaylee would burst into tears.
“It’s OK,” Snead would say to comfort her oldest sister. “I have a lot of medals at home.”
Tyler’s favorite memory took place when Snead was dealing with a broken back. There were people who weren’t aware of the injury and called Snead a “wimp” for not competing. As one could imagine, she wasn’t happy with those comments and decided to compete on vault.
Her parents didn’t expect her to compete either, and were at dinner in the Bahamas. They chose not to return in time for the meet and Snead wasn’t too pleased in hindsight. Nevertheless, her brother was there and Snead won the event.
“She dropped the medal to say ‘that’s what y’all get,’” Tyler said.
Message from Laney: We don’t know what to do on the weekends now. It’ll be weird not seeing you do gymnastics.
Message from Kaylee: It was a great career for you. All of your hard work and dedication paid off. We’re definitely proud of you and all you’ve accomplished.
From her grandparents’ eyes, John and Linda Charlesworth
There was no prouder moment for Snead’s grandparents, John and Linda Charlesworth, when she would bring friends into their home. There were plenty of occasions where Snead would invite teammates from club gymnastics for dinners or sleepovers.
Now, her grandparents have been overjoyed to welcome other GymDogs, including Snead’s closest friends Gracie Cherrey and Rachel Dickson. John and Linda look back on those memories fondly and see Snead and her friends thrive on the collegiate stage. They sat at Friday’s meet with an opportunity to reflect on how gymnastics shaped those lives.
“You see the discipline that these girls get from competing,” John said. “It will serve them well in life and they’re going to be capable of the challenges they face. It’ll be exciting.”
As Snead’s career concluded, Linda thought it went by too fast. But she can also smile at those lifelong memories made.
“It has been a blessing to watch her be a leader and inspire others,” Linda said.
Message from Grandpa: I’m totally thrilled for you and confident, because of what y’all have to go through from a teamwork standpoint. You don’t succeed in life by yourself, and you’ve put yourself with a team of people.
Message from Grandma: You’ve juggled practice, meets, family, I’m not worried about your next phase now, and I know you’re going to exceed because you’ve done all of that stuff.
From her coach’s eyes, Courtney Kupets Carter
There was no greater joy for Snead during her final season than walking alongside a gymnast she idolized. She recalled many times watching her head coach Courtney Kupets Carter dominate the college landscape on the YouTube archives.
From the other side, it was a tremendous memory for Kupets Carter to coach a gymnast with Snead’s qualities.
Message from Kupets Carter: You’ve had an amazing impact on me. It has been fun picking up on little things from you. You’re such a competitive spirit, and no matter what comes your way, you’re full out all the time.