The New York State gymnastics championships were only 12 days away, and Skye Harper suddenly began feeling under the weather.
During a time in which preparation was crucial, she found herself unable to train until the week of the competition. And although the Bay Shore/Islip senior had yet to completely recover once the big day had arrived, her championship mettle was on full display.
Harper dazzled at Cold Spring Harbor High School on Feb. 29, winning the vault with a score of 9.775 en route to a third-place finish in the all-around (37.10). She also led Suffolk to third place in the team standings (180.525).
Two days later, she was diagnosed with walking pneumonia.
“I knew that my muscle memory and body knew what to do,” Harper said. “I just tried not to get myself overwhelmed. So I just stayed calm and worked on my quality.”
Harper’s mother, Robin Thomas-Harper, who also served as Bay Shore/Islip coach for eight seasons before retiring at the conclusion of the competition, said Harper’s competitive drive and ability to focus on achieving her goal certainly shone through.
“She loves to compete,” Thomas-Harper said. “She knows how to block things out. I was really proud of her, especially realizing how sick she was.”
Harper said the key to winning the vault was sticking to a simple approach.
“My whole thing with vault, I really was just trying to keep a positive energy,” she said. “I really didn’t want to overthink anything going into it. I just tried to have a simple mindset and talk to myself to take one thing at a time.”
Persevering through the sudden illness wasn’t the only part of Harper’s journey to a state championship that proved to be less than conventional.
While she rose up the Long Island gymnastics ranks as a freshman before sustaining a major injury, she stepped away from the varsity scene the next two years in order to focus on club-level competition that would increase her exposure for college recruitment, which ultimately led to her commitment to Arizona State.
“In ninth grade she was the county champ as well and then she tore her Achilles,” Harper-Thomas said. “So she couldn’t compete and this was her comeback state championship…That made it extra special because she didn’t have the opportunity to really show everyone who she was as an athlete.”
She made quite the statement after returning, as she won every event at the county championships before becoming a state champion.
“Overall it was a great feeling to finish out like that,” Harper said.
Having her mother’s coaching and guidance made Harper’s final season even more of an unforgettable experience.
“It was really special,” Harper said. “This last season was just a bunch of really good moments…This year it was just more fun, even in practice and everything.”
Harper-Thomas acknowledged that both she and Harper concluded their time with Bay Shore/Islip in remarkable fashion.
“It was something that was very important to me because it was my last season as a coach as well,” she said. “So we both went out together and she was a county champ that won every event at counties. As a team we won counties, I got Coach of the Year and now she’s a state champion. So we had an amazing final season.”