MUNCIE — As Annabelle Dockins gingerly dismounted the uneven bars, the New Palestine gymnastics team erupted with glee, swarmed and showered the Dragons’ junior with hugs.
Dockins had just completed her one and only event, in which she would earn a 5.75, the lowest score of any competitor at Saturday’s state finals.
Had any other Dragons gymnast tallied a 5.75 at the state finals, it would have been a disaster and served as the low point of the meet.
Instead, Regan Elsea, the proud owner of three state medals, pointed to Dockins’ performance as the highlight of the Dragons’ day.
“I was just so excited to see her out there,” Elsea said. “Honestly, that was the best part of our meet.”
Dockins, or “Belle” to her teammates, is still recovering from a torn ACL she suffered in January while working on her floor routine.
Primed to serve as the Dragons’ No. 3 all-around competitor behind Elsea and longtime friend Kate Fee, the injury crushed her and the team.
“This was supposed to our year,” Dockins said during practice leading up to the state finals. “But that moment (when I hurt my knee) was the most devastating moment of my life. Finding out that I tore it was the second worst.”
“Not being able to compete … and watching every single person that I love, like Kate, do the sport that I love, killed me.”
Though she was out of competition the entire season, Dockins did not believe the injury freed her of the responsibility and commitment she made to her teammates. Dockins attended every practice and every meet, transforming herself into an assistant coach and head cheerleader.
This was not the first time Dockins showed unwavering allegiance to her team.
During her freshman year, when the Dragons qualified for state, Dockins volunteered to concede her usual varsity spot to a senior, so that the elder girl could enjoy the experience of competing at state.
Coach Jenny Musselman never forgot Dockins’ deed, and as the Dragons inched closer to state this season, Musselman told Dockins that as long as the team agreed, there would be a spot on the uneven bars waiting.
When the time came, they didn’t hesitate. As soon as Dockins received clearance from doctors, freshman Tara Morey gave up her spot so that Dockins could serve as the Dragons’ fourth competitor at state (only the top three scores count, so Dockins’ would be a throwaway).
Two weeks ago, Dockins could not walk without crutches. On Saturday, Dockins, still in a full leg brace, twirled eight feet into the air without ever letting a smile leave her face.
“It was exhilarating,” she said. “I loved it. I’m so happy I got to do that.”
For Musselman, while a state championship would have been nice, her team was a winner, regardless.
“We’re prioritizing stuff that’s more important than just winning,” Musselman said. “We want to win of course, but they’re winning at life when they make choices like that. It just makes me so proud. I know it’s cheesy or whatever, but it makes me more proud to be a coach of that team than it does to have them having a winning record. It’s actually probably the thing I’m proudest of this year.”
Check out Daily Reporter Sports on Twitter @GDRsports to view a video Dockins’ performance.