Sarah Faller’s father wept in the car after dinner Sunday, touched by what his daughter shared with him following the Maryland gymnastics team’s Senior Day quad meet.
He wept, not because his daughter’s gymnastics career is almost finished, but because of the circumstances that landed her at Maryland in the first place.
She met coach Brett Nelligan at a gymnastics camp at Georgia in summer 2006. Faller described herself as “a crazy kid who loved to dance.” Nelligan was immediately receptive to her enthusiasm, giving Faller a Maryland gymnastics poster that remains on the wall in her room in Raleigh, North Carolina.
When Faller showed her dad the emotional text she sent Nelligan before the competition, he knew her four years in a Maryland leotard have been “such an incredible ride.”
“I just remember her as this really spunky, outgoing, funny kid,” Nelligan said. “She was a good gymnast, and she worked really hard.”
It wasn’t until a former assistant brought Faller to Maryland on a high-school recruiting trip that she and Nelligan recognized each other. Even then, Nelligan saw the same energetic girl he met years earlier.
In the week leading up to Senior Day, the Terps stressed staying focused on the meet, rather than getting caught up in the pageantry of the ceremonies. Nelligan wasn’t thinking about sending his seniors off, either.
On Saturday night, though, the magnitude of the meet began to set in for Faller, who received texts from alums wishing her well, causing her to think about what the program has meant to her.
Early Sunday, Faller texted Nelligan a picture of the two of them, thanking him for everything he’s done for her.
“Thank you for believing in the crazy little girl you saw in Georgia,” Faller wrote. “Thank you so much for always believing in me.”
After reading the text, Nelligan knew it would be an emotional afternoon, conceding Senior Day has not become any easier for him in his seven years as head coach.
“You get so attached to these kids because you’re with them through the greatest times, through the toughest times,” Nelligan said. “It’s impossible not to get attached.”
Of the team’s three seniors, Faller was the only one to compete in every event each year she was on the team. She recognized the rarity of a consistent career in the sport.
“It’s been such an amazing ride,” Faller said. “I’ve been so incredibly blessed and lucky to just go year after year.”
Senior Emily Brauckmuller, who only competed in one meet her sophomore year, agreed, urging her younger teammates to not take their time at Maryland for granted.
“I know it sounds like a cliché, but just take in every moment of competing, smiling and having fun because it’s not going to last very much longer,” Brauckmuller said.
Faller succumbed to her emotions as the meet’s significance dawned on her.
“After I finished my vault, I had that moment of clarity,” Faller said. “Here I am, this is crazy that I’m actually here. There was just such an outpouring of love from everybody.”
“I’m still in denial about it,” she added.
Nelligan still sees the same exuberance in Faller as he did at Georgia, but he’s taken pride in watching her develop as a leader in her time at Maryland.
“As a coach, seeing [gymnasts] be successful in the gym is great,” Nelligan said. “But seeing them grow as people and going on to becoming mature, responsible adults, that’s the real reward.”