Dawson County High School senior Sara Alford made history April 18 when she became the first athlete in the history of the school to earn an acrobatic and tumbling scholarship.
“Right now in NCAA, 37 colleges and universities compete in this and it’s one of the fastest growing sports in NCAA,” said Athletic Director Grady Turner. “This is a rising sport which you’re going to hear more and more about in the future so we’re very, very pleased and honored that Sara is going to be going on to do it.”
Alford will be attending Limestone College in Gaffney, South Carolina in the fall where she plans to pursue a degree in athletic training.
Since she was in the fourth grade, Alford has pursued her passion for gymnastics at the Dahlonega School of Gymnastics, competing and going to state competitions every year.
“Being able to put it all out on the floor and just go hard and do your best,” said Alford about her favorite part of gymnastics. “You only have one shot to get it all right.”
But tumbling and acrobatics wasn’t always the easiest for her.
Two of her coaches who have followed her journey since elementary school, Shannon Hageli and Andrea Aliucci, spoke highly of Alford’s dedication to the sport.
“Gymnastics and tumbling has not always been the easiest thing and she’s worked harder than most every other athlete I’ve ever had to make her body flexible because it was not intended to be that way,” Hageli said.
According to her coaches, Alford has always been a leader and has always looked out for her teammates.
“Every so often in my career of coaching I have been given the privilege of bonding with a gymnast,” said Aliucci. “In my mind and my circle of friends [Alford is] in an elite group of special young ladies no matter where life takes you I will always be in [her] corner.”
Also always in Alford’s corner is her grandmother, Shirley Hawkins, who took her to her gymnastic classes for many years.
“Sara has always been a leader from the time she was itty bitty. No matter what she has done she has retold, reinstructed that led her group that’s around her. I’ve always admired that about her,” said Hawkins. “She’s not afraid to attempt something …she’ll keep going after it…until she finally nails it.”
Being a great athlete didn’t just happen overnight for Alford. She consistently pushes and works on her skills every week. Alford trains 16 to 20 hours a week and sometimes more since she has become a trainer at the gymnastics school.
It’s also been a challenge to find time to study, but it hasn’t stopped Alford from achieving a 3.75 GPA.
“It says a lot about your work ethic and your willing to stick with it and do all those things but it also says something about what you’ve accomplished in the classroom because scholarships don’t just happen because of your athletic ability. They happen because you have the grades to go along with it,” said DCHS Principal Richard Crumley.
Most importantly, Alford’s father, Bart, said Alford’s coaches taught her life lessons, honor and commitment but that there was something more important than the scholarship that he was most proud of.
“This scholarship’s great but most I’m proud of her is her relationship with God because without that none of this would be possible,” said Bart.