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Women GymHawks in the pink for meet

BY EVELYN LAU | FEBRUARY 16, 2009 7:50 AM

Jessa Hansen’s mother is a breast-cancer survivor.

Perhaps that’s why the freshman gymnast from Clive, Iowa, views Iowa’s annual “Pink Meet” with such high regard.

“My family and I have been affected by breast cancer, so it’s really meaningful just to spread the awareness,” she said. “I think it’s really great that all colleges are starting to do something like this.”
Her mother was originally diagnosed when Hansen was only in the second grade, but even then, she felt the difficulty of seeing a family member affected by serious disease. More importantly, she understood the significance of spreading awareness to females of all ages.

The idea of holding a Pink Meet originated in 2003, when the NCAA decided to focus attention on Talya Vexler, then a University of Georgia gymnast, and her battle with breast cancer at the age of 23.

After getting a double mastectomy and undergoing chemotherapy, Vexler, now an assistant coach for Iowa, has been cancer-free for almost six years. Her courageous battle has made her an inspiration for those on the team, as well as a reminder about the frailty of life.



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“I think people always tend to think they are untouchable or that it could never happen to them or that it’s something that happens when you’re after 40,” Iowa head coach Larissa Libby said. “Talya was diagnosed very, very young and I think it’s just a wonderful, physical reminder that you need to always be aware and be checking yourself. You have the choice of survival or not.”

The inaugural meet kicked off in 2004 with Georgia and Alabama, and it has since been picked up by every school that has a women’s gymnastics program. In the meet, the gymnasts don pink leotards, and the fans are encouraged to wear pink, the sign of breast-cancer awareness.

Tonight, No. 25 Iowa (7-3) will take on No. 19 Iowa State (0-6) four days after defeating the Cyclones, 194.375-193.825, in Ames. It was the first time the GymHawks had won at Iowa State since 1993.

Iowa won all four team events, and sophomore Houry Gebeshian claimed another all-around title with a score of 39.100. Freshman Annie Szatkowski tied for first on the vault (9.825), and Gebeshian and senior Jenifer Simbhudas tied for first on the uneven bars (9.800). Sophomore Kristen Ward, replacing an injured Kara Pinjuv, made her season début on the floor exercise and scored an impressive 9.875, good enough for a tie for second.

While the Pink Meet allows for the two rivals to come together for a common cause, the GymHawks also know they will have to stay focused in order to pull off the series sweep.
“We went to Iowa State [recently], and I know they are looking for revenge,” senior Jenifer Simbhudas said. “It’s just another meet, but it’s more special because it’s different with all the pink.”


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