BY DREW DUFF | Ball State Sports Link
Ball State gymnastics is about to finish one of its most successful seasons to date.
Sporting a 9-6 record, the team has won more this season than it has in its previous 10. They have tied their conference win total from last season, still with three meets remaining against Mid-American Conference opponents.
The team also averages nearly half a point better per meet than last year. This may not seem like a lot, but in a sport decided by tenths of a point, it makes a huge difference (Ball State’s last loss to Northern Illinois was decided by less than two-tenths of a point).
Some may wonder what could be causing this upswing for the program. Part of it has to do with a new class of talented and eager freshmen. Part of it has to do with head coach Joanna Saleem having over 20 years of gymnastics coaching experience.
However, part of it it also comes from a rather unexpected place. The addition of 6-year-old Halleigh Lynn Chitwood.
In October 2016, she was diagnosed with Leukemia and has received treatment since. From nearby Marion, Ind., Halleigh has continued to stay involved in gymnastics despite her illness and joined the BSU team through the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Leukemia is a type of cancer involving bone marrow and blood. It’s a rather rare disease, with under 50,000 reported cases in the United States in 2014.
“I really think that being able to have her in the gym brightens the mood of everyone,” freshman Tori Long said. “When we hear she’s coming (to practice), we get so excited.”
This season, Halleigh has been a major part of Ball State’s success. She joins the team at practices and meets whenever possible. To say she has been an inspiration for the team is an understatement.
“She’s constantly such a little firecracker, she’s so much fun to be around and always happy,” senior Jackie Duffy said. “She’s not afraid to do what she wants to do.”
View this post on Instagram
Cardinal Fans!! We would like to introduce the newest member to our Cardinal Gymnastics Family! This is Halleigh, she is a make-a-wish warrior. Halleigh is such a strong individual who puts a smile on every single persons face when she walk into the gym. She has been to two of our practices and we have loved every single second of it. We love you Halleigh! #Chirp!Chirp!
Having Halleigh around has not only brightened the team’s spirit, but it has helped the girls learn valuable life lessons. It’s clear she made a major impact on senior Clare Collins.
One thing Long noticed right away about Halleigh is her sense of wonder and imagination. After getting to spend one-on-one time with her, Long shared a heartwarming story about their first interaction.
She is a reminder to not take anything in life for granted, and to enjoy even the smallest of victories. Duffy agrees Halleigh has given her a different mindset not only on gymnastics, but on life as well.
“They’ve kind of taken her in and made her a part of their little family,” Halleigh’s mother Jenna Ropp told Ball State All Access. “Everyone she talks to, she has to tell them that she’s a part of the Ball State Cardinals.”
Halleigh’s impact on the team this season has been apparent, not just in the stats, but in the attitude of the team. Collins emphasizes just how a six-year-old little girl influenced Ball State’s gymnastics program.
Success in sports doesn’t always come from talent, preparation, luck or hard work. Sometimes it comes from the most unexpected places in life.
All it can take is a change in perspective to improve our lives and make us better people. For the Ball State gymnastics team, Halleigh has been that spark.