The drive from Lindsay Dwyer's house in Glen Cove to Gold Medal Gymnastics in Huntington takes about 45 minutes. This drive, one that the Glen Cove High School senior makes six days a week for practice, gives her time to think about everything else she could be doing with her time: watching TV, hanging out with friends, or even just taking a relaxing break from her nonstop schedule.
But this train of thought never lasts long for Dwyer, not when she has meticulously mapped-out goals and a deep understanding of what it takes to reach them.
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"I think anyone who commits themselves fully to something, especially athletes, has that point when they kind of look at it and say: Why am I doing what I'm doing?," Dwyer said. "For me, I love gymnastics. It feels nice to sweat sometimes and it feels nice to win. And then I think about everything it's done for me."DatabaseLI Class of 2016 college commitments
Yesterday, on National Signing Day, Dwyer made her usual trip to Gold Medal Gymnastics. But rather than her normal routine -- four hours of practice -- she was there to sign her National Letter of Intent to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which offered her a full scholarship for gymnastics.
"It really makes everything worth it," Dwyer said. "All the hard days and all the times when I was sick, everything was achy and I just wanted to hang out with my friends and do normal stuff ... It makes it worth it. Because now I have an opportunity that I probably wouldn't have otherwise."
Tammy Marshall-Panten, her coach Gold Medal Gymnastics since Lindsay was 8, said she saw Dwyer's potential right away.
"As soon as she came to the gym that first time," Marshall-Panten said. "She had great flexibility, great work ethic and was just beautiful to watch."
Ten years later, Marshall-Panten insists the pleasure has been all hers. Dwyer, whose passion and commitment are unrivaled, is a coach's dream.
"Whether she's injured, doesn't feel good, has homework or tests the next day, Lindsay's in the gym everyday," Marshall-Panten said. "She always makes it work. She doesn't miss a practice. It's pretty amazing."
Illinois finished 14th in the nation in the official NCAA rankings last year. The program's success was a critical criterion for Dwyer, who finished first on bars (9.525) at the New York State championship meet in Rochester in March, and won the all-around (37.70) at the USA Gymnastics Region VI championship meet in Springfield, Massachusetts in April.
But when it came to deciding on a school, equally important were academics for Dwyer, who is just as driven in the classroom as she is on the gymnastics mat. She has a 96.86 GPA at Glen Cove and is ranked 15th in her class.
"She's one of the most gifted athletes I've ever coached," Marshall-Panten said, "but she's also such a smart, intelligent girl."
It's no surprise that Dwyer already has a clear direction for her career.
"I want to major in something animal-science related," she said. "I want to help with conserving extinct animals and work with wildlife and exotic species.
"I always kind of knew that I wanted to do something that was part of a bigger picture, something outside of what I'm used to. And Illinois has a very big vet school and their animal science school is huge."
In other words, Illinois has as much to offer Dwyer as she has to offer it.
"It's a perfect fit," Dwyer said, "It's just an awesome school and makes me excited for my future. I can't wait."