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The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Farewell fit for a Queenie

By Tony Pizza

Stone cold. Rock solid. Unflappable. When it comes to Nicolle Ford and her focus on beam, any of these sports clichs would do, but they don’t exactly do justice to the spectacle of watching her compete.

Ford’s teammates call her focus “the face.” The way she pounds away at the event, it seems like she has a personal vendetta against the four-inch-wide piece of gymnastics equipment. And the way she glares into the stands, it’s as if she’s daring someone to let even one hair fall out of place.

Oddly enough, if one looks closely at Ford during the pinnacle of athletic concentration, that person would notice her mouthing the words to James Blunt’s song, “You’re Beautiful.”

“I pick my beam music accordingly so I know the words and kind of mouth them to myself,” Ford said. “It’s not all singing, there is some talking to myself. I say certain things before I do certain skills.”

The singing is just another example of her extreme concentration. And as she nails her routine, the way she arches her body back and throws her arms in the air offers just a glimpse of the intensity Ford has during competition.

“She’s a real competitor,” said U head coach Greg Marsden. “Throughout her career she’s competed with broken fingers, all kinds of injuries. She likes to be out there; she likes to compete.”

But Ford and one of her best friends Kristen Riffanacht — who is also the Red Rocks’ student coach — remember things starting out for Ford a little differently.

Rewind to the beginning of Ford’s sophomore year in 2005 and she was a different person, a person clearly frustrated and burned out with gymnastics.

“I think the beginning of her sophomore year was really hard for her,” Riffanacht said.

“From September to almost November it was almost like pulling teeth. I was not happy,” Ford said. “I even questioned whether I wanted to do it anymore. Greg (Marsden) was understanding to a point and then it was like he snapped and was like, ‘If you don’t want to do this, stop.'”

But Ford didn’t walk away. She found the groove she had as a freshman that started in the all-around and she found the spark that has grown into a competitive inferno today.

“I think when she decided that she was going to ‘go get it,’ her attitude completely changed. That’s where the face on beam came from,” Riffanacht said. “It’s infectious, and that’s the year we made the change (as a team).”

Ford’s will to win and her intensity while performing are the things the Red Rocks’ coaching staff will miss the most when Ford is gone.

“I feel like she’s someone that’s brought back the competitive spirit that’s been missing (in U gymnastics) for a while,” said associate head coach Megan Marsden. “When she rolled into town, we could just feel the competitive spirit, and that’s something she’s given back to the program. I’m going to miss that, but I hope that she’s made her mark on the others on the team so it will continue to go around for some years.”

The reciprocation has been a two-way street for Ford and the U program.

Ford admits that she wasn’t someone that always willingly attended school back in her high school days. She even said she had a bit of “senioritis” as early as her freshman year, but she credits the Red Rocks’ coaching staff for helping her push toward a goal she is proud to currently have within reach.

“Having coaches watching your grades and making sure you went to class, that was hard to get used to,” Ford said. “I’ve never had that before, but it was good.”

Now Ford is carrying a 3.4 GPA and is one Fall Semester away from graduating from college, which is something she really didn’t envision before coming to the U. But her persistence in gymnastics paid off with a scholarship, and now she can use this experience as a stepping-stone to bigger and better things. Not bad for someone who started gymnastics because it was bring-a-friend day at a friend’s gym when she was barely out of diapers.

Ford also credits Marsden with the exceptional way he handled her idiosyncrasies inside the gym.

“Greg (Marsden) has done an amazing job,” Ford said. “As a gymnast I have a lot of things you have to get used to, the head case issues, and I need to be pushed, and he’s been really good since I came here.”

Aside from the strong coach-athlete relationship Ford has developed with Marsden in her four years as a Ute athlete, when she finally hangs up the Utah leotard for the last time, she’ll miss her teammates and being part of a team the most.

“We’re so close. I would have to say we’re one of the closest teams on campus,” Ford said. “That’s what I’m going to miss, is having other sisters, basically.”

But Ford admitted that she’s going to miss performing in front of thousands of fans at the Huntsman Center, too.

“I’m definitely going to miss walking into the Huntsman and seeing all those people. That’s one of my most favorite things,” Ford said.

Maybe that explains why Ford chose the summer job that she did.

As soon as Spring Semester is over, Ford is going to hop on a plane and travel to sunny San Diego, Calif. Once there, she will begin working in the job that UCLA gymnastics head coach Val Kondos helped set her up with.

“I’m going to work at Sea World and do some shows there. It’s some gymnastics, some dancing, but it’s nothing like this,” Ford said. “I love performing and I don’t want to just drop it. I might get depressed or something. I’m not ready for a big-girl job yet.”

Ford continually insists that she will not be working with Shamu, although she admits she is fuzzy on the details and will basically be “winging it” until August when she returns for one last semester of school.

But while she’s in San Diego, time will surely catch up with her, and she’ll think back to her amazing career as a Red Rock.

“I’m going to miss it all,” Ford said. “I feel like I’m a totally different person. The U has helped me to become that.”

But before Ford bids farewell, her team still has one last task at hand. She knew from the beginning she had the chance to say goodbye at home during the National Championships, and nothing would be sweeter than a walk-off homerun in the form of a first-place trophy.

“That would be the icing on the cake; I mean, that’s what I came here for,” Ford said. “It (would) be a fairytale ending.”

Christopher Peddecord

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