Lauren Cecco stood out at the Nassau state qualifier -- the tall girl in the blazing orange leotard amidst a sea of petite gymnasts. That day, she was one of the few who didn't attend a non-scholastic club gym, and most likely the only one to complete a double back dismount off the uneven bars.
She flew high off the high bar -- enough to do two full flips in the air -- and landed on her feet. Once she landed, the Hicksville gymnast who had competed as long or longer than any other girl in the room greeted her coach with unabashed glee. The scores came in a bit later. She earned an 8.50, enough for a spot on the state championship team. The reaction: More glee.
"I went in not knowing what was going to happen," she said. "And now I get to finish my career going to states. It's a nice finale."
Granted Cecco, a senior on varsity since seventh grade, had done her dismount a hundred times before. And sure, gymnastics had long become secondary to her accomplished career as a diver. But Cecco, who has dedicated over 15 years to double backs and front handsprings, was determined to make one last stand. Even if that last stand just meant sticking around when so many others would have left.
Cecco dives year round and, after winning the Nassau County diving title two years in a row, earned a partial scholarship to compete at the University of Connecticut in the fall. During gymnastics season, she schedules her five-days-a-week practices back to back -- gymnastics after school and diving from 7 p.m. on. To top it all off, that growth spurt she hit in sixth grade definitely lent itself more to the water than the vault.
"I'm taller than all the other girls [in gymnastics] and I stuck with it and I did my best, and I'm really happy I could finish my senior year this way," said Cecco, who at 5-7 towers over some of her competition. "When I get to states, I really just want to do my best. I know I'm not the best in the state, but I'm really proud of what I accomplished."
The list of accolades is long, but in short, Cecco has made the diving state team from grades eight to 12 and previously competed in the gymnastics state tournament in 10th grade, on bars.
Training in gymnastics since she was 3, she said that the skills she learned there translated easily to the diving board. And though Cecco left her club gym in seventh grade, "I would be nowhere near as accomplished at diving without gymnastics," she said.
You could say it runs in the family. Cecco's older sister, Danielle, was also a gymnast-turned-diver. Her efforts, too, took her to UConn, where she earned the 2012 Big East River of the Year, as well as All-American honors. A senior this year, Danielle will be working on her master's degree at the school while her little sister competes.
"Her sister is a tough act to follow," their father Tony said. "Lauren's gotta look up to her, but she'll also do her own thing. I'm sure she'll be fine . . . basically, it's just great to that she was an athlete in two sports and the important thing was that she was able to meet her potential in both."
Lauren said that Danielle blazed a path that she could happily emulate. And like Danielle, she plans to leave the gymnastics gym behind after the state tournament at Smithtown East High School on March 2.
"It's going to be fun," she said. "But it's definitely sad. I'm never going to go into the gym again. I'm never going to do the flips on the floor again. It's definitely sad."
It goes both ways. For the sport which grew so accustomed to the tall girl in the bright orange, you could say things will never be quite the same.