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January 24, 2013TUSCALOOSA | For one night, University of Alabama gymnasts won't be recognized as two-time defending national champions or all-americans.
The Crimson Tide gymnastics team hosts the Kentucky Wildcats tonight in UA's annual Power of Pink meet to raise awareness for breast cancer, and part of the night's festivities include each gymnast being introduced alongside a breast cancer patient or survivor. The gymnasts are announced in name only, while the survivors are recognized with how many years they have been fighting the disease.
"It's a great athletic competition," head coach Sarah Patterson said. "But it's a night that you get to recognize other people and the challenges they have faced."
Senior Ashley Sledge escorted her aunt, who was diagnosed with breast cancer, out onto the coliseum floor her freshman year and said it was a night neither will forget.
"I feel like it just gives us an opportunity to not put so much pressure on ourselves," Sledge said. "It takes the pressure off ourselves and kind of recognize people who have real concerns every day fighting for their lives and their families and their children."
Patterson started the Power of Pink in 2005 for a meet against Auburn. She asked everyone to "Think Pink, Wear Pink" for breast cancer awareness. Since then, the movement has exploded across campus and now every women's sport hosts a pink meet or game of some sort.
"You can talk to anybody and they have a mother, or a sister or a cousin or a friend or an aunt, somebody has been touched by this disease," Patterson said. "If one person walks out of Coleman Coliseum on Friday night and they've thought more about it or they go get a test and it brings awareness, then all the effort and time and energy that we've placed into it is a good thing."
Patterson and her husband, David, will present a check Friday night to the DCH Cancer Center for $104,400, bringing their total to $1.35 million raised since the Power of Pink started. The team also visited the center Tuesday.
There will be a gymnastics meet behind all of the pageantry and ceremony, too. No. 5 Alabama hosts No. 15 Kentucky, which has beaten Auburn and Arkansas already in the young season.
"Yes, we are the more talented team, but it doesn't matter in this conference," Patterson said. "If you make a mistake, you put yourself in a position where you can lose."
Patterson said it will be a challenge to get her gymnasts into competition mode once the actual meet beings, but it's something she deals with every year for this meet.
Sledge, however, feels the night gives her extra encouragement.
"I feel like it's more of a motivating thing whenever we have our survivors on our arms," she said. "Tonight, we're not competing for a 9.9. It's so much bigger than that. We're competing for her."