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March 22, 2013TUSCALOOSA | For many University of Alabama teams, a road trip to the University of Arkansas would mean approximately a 10-hour bus ride before and after their competition. But for the gymnastics team this year, it was just a short, hour-and-a-half ride on a UA charter plane.
The gymnastics team flies in style to many of its away meets and will do so today when it flies to the SEC Championships, which are on Saturday in Little Rock, Ark. Coach Sarah Patterson said there are many benefits to flying, rather than busing, which are both physical and academic in nature.
"It's a tremendous help to our team," Patterson said.
Alabama took a plane to three regular season meets this year - Missouri, Florida and Arkansas - and bussed to meets at LSU and Georgia. It also flew to three meets in 2012. There are University regulations that dictate when teams are allowed to fly depending on how far away a destination is. But flying is always the preferred method.
The average cost of a charter flight during the 2012 season was $22,743 compared to $2,004 for each bus trip - a difference of more than $20,000 - according to information received from UA.
But the high cost comes with a high reward.
"It is such a huge help," senior Ashley Sledge said. "Just the fact that we can get on a plane, be there, it's an hour and fifteen flight. It's just so helpful for backs and ankles and knees and things like that."
This year, the team flew back immediately following its meet in LSU on March 8 and went straight to the cold tubs, even though it was three in the morning. But being able to do rehab on the night of the meet gave the gymnasts an extra day to recover on Saturday before getting back to practice Sunday.
"You have a recovery day the next day. It's not that you're spending all day traveling to get home," Patterson said. "Not many teams come back and then at three in the morning get in the cold tubs like we did when we got back from LSU."
It also helps the gymnasts in the classroom. Patterson said the plane usually leaves at 3 p.m. on Thursday before a Friday meet, which means the athletes don't have to miss any class.
"The teachers definitely appreciate that," Sledge said.
And while they're on the plane, studying is usually the activity of choice. Because the short flights don't lend themselves well to long movies, Patterson said she usually sees the girls hitting their textbooks.
"They have their headphones on, but I would say that three quarters of them on different trips, they're studying," Patterson said. "I see them with their laptops out and notebooks open. ...pretty much whenever - bus or plane - you can look back there and probably three quarters of them are doing school work."
Travel parties include four coaches and three staff members in addition to the gymnasts. They use 15-16 hotel rooms, which totaled an average of $2,223 last season. The travel party also spent an average of $2,677 on meals and per diems, and $1,666 for a bus to carry the team around once it lands. That brings the total cost of a trip to an average of almost $30,000.
Patterson made sure to thank the UA sport that provides much of the athletic department's funding.
"We're just very fortunate that we have an athletic department that supports our program to the highest level," Patterson said. "And Coach (Nick) Saban and the football program provide the funding that allows us to do that."