New Canaan standout gymnast Caroline Fitzpatrick recently achieved a life-long dream by committing to compete in Division-I gymnastics for Central Michigan next fall.
Although she is not a member of the New Canaan High School team, Fitzpatrick became a Level 10 gymnast under the tutelage of Laurie and Frank DeFrancesco at Arena Gymnastics in Stamford. Laurie and Frank DeFrancesco began coaching Fitzpatrick when she was a 3-year-old, and Fitzpatrick began competitive gymnastics at the age of 8.
"I was immediately impressed with how coachable she was. She was always on task and remembered the corrections she was given from one day to the next," Laurie DeFrancesco said. "I was also impressed with her flexibility and her toe point. The combination of all of those things made it easy for me to help her maximize the compulsory routines she was competing, and Caroline met with competitive success very early on."
The Division-I college atmosphere will likely present new challenges for Fitzpatrick, but the New Canaan High School senior sounds like she's ready to go.
"I think that it's definitely going to be a lot of work," Fitzpatrick said. "From all the dedication that I've had, I think it's just going to be a step up, but it's what I've ultimately wanted to do and I'm ready for it."
Although it was a school that she initially wasn't giving a great amount of consideration partially due to its distance from New Canaan, a few emails between her and long-time Central Michigan coach Jerry Reighard had her intrigued.
"My physical therapist mentioned that school to me once before. It was where he went. I never thought about going that far and it never really stuck out to me," Fitzpatrick said. "One day I was going through a list of possible schools and all Division-I gymnastics teams and decided `what the heck.' I emailed them to see what feedback I could get, and it was the best I had gotten from a coach. He sounded like he really wanted me on the team."
A pair of visits to the Central Michigan campus over this past summer and in the fall "sealed the deal."
"It was a great trip meeting the coaches (in the summer) and I was invited for an official visit in October," Fitzpatrick said. "It's when I could watch the girls work out and spend time with them. The official visit sealed the deal. I loved it there and felt like I would belong there and be comfortable."
Of course, college will be more than just gymnastics for Fitzpatrick, who indicated that she was further sold by the fact that Central Michigan offers health fitness as a major.
"I'm looking to be a physical therapist; it's the reason why the school was a great fit because it has health fitness as a major," Fitzpatrick said. "I could get my Doctorate in physical therapy and they have a good physician's assistant program."
Up until about fifth grade, Fitzpatrick participated in other sports, including soccer and lacrosse, but those games paled in comparison to gymnastics.
"I just loved gymnastics so much more and that was what I was going to do for the rest of my life," Fitzpatrick said.
Although she greatly enjoys all four events, Fitzpatrick said that beam is her favorite as well as her strength.
"I love beam. When I get on the beam I have a rush of adrenaline mixed in with confidence. I feel like I own the beam," Fitzpatrick said. "After all the hard work I put into it, that's my time to show off and show the judges how much I've been working."
Beam might be her favorite event, but Fitzpatrick's favorite moment as a gymnast occurred after a routine on the uneven bars at a Level 9 Easterns meet.
"My last event was bars and I knew I was having a good meet. I stuck the dismount and my coach came up to me and said `you just won the whole meet,'" Fitzpatrick said. "It's one of the most memorable moments I have."
At this particular meet, Fitzpatrick walked away with two national titles for all around and balance beam, while also placing third on floor. The moment was equally special for her coach.
"I knew going into bars that if she hit her routine, there was only one gymnast that realistically could catch her. (After that gymnast did not score high on beam), Caroline did an amazing bar routine and when she stuck the dismount I knew she had it," Laurie DeFrancesco said. "After she saluted the judges, I ran to her and wrapped my arms around her, telling her that she had just won the meet. She had no idea until I told her."
While Fitzpatrick's role as a freshman on the Central Michigan team remains to be seen, her current coach believes she can make an immediate impact.
"I believe Caroline will make an immediate impact on CMU's beam line up and possibly their bars lineup," Laurie DeFrancesco said. "She is equally as beautiful swinging bars as she is on balance beam, and her new bar routine also has a 10.0 start value at the college level. She is working to upgrade her difficulty on floor and vault to hopefully compete all around for the Chippewas."
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