Grace Taylor fulfilled one dream Wednesday. Now, she gets to see where it leads her.
The Aiken gymnast signed a national letter-of-intent to attend Georgia in the fall. It was the culmination of plenty of practice and competition that began when she was 4 years old.
"My dad said when I was 6, 'If you practice hard enough you can be a Gym Dog,' " Taylor said. "College was always a big dream for him. It makes me really excited to see him really excited.''
A rigorous practice schedule of 33 hours during the school year helped Taylor achieve the dream. A total of 16 schools sought Taylor in the recruiting process, including Utah and several Southeastern Conference schools.
Taylor, 17, narrowed her visits down to Georgia, Florida, Alabama and Auburn before making an early commitment to the Gym Dogs.
"Well, the recruiting process was crazy,'' she said. "I decided really early so people would stop asking me. I thought it was the best choice.''
Georgia is considered one of the top gymnastics programs in the nation. Under coach Suzanne Yoculan, the Gym Dogs regularly perform before crowds of more than 9,000 fans at Stegeman Coliseum. The team won its sixth NCAA Championship this spring, and has not finished worse than fifth overall since 1986.
At Georgia, Taylor will join a team that includes two former Olympians. Courtney Kupets is a freshman on this year's Georgia team, and Courtney McCool committed verbally earlier this year and was expected to sign this month.
Taylor, who is home-schooled at Talatha Academy in Aiken, also received several academic scholarship offers.
Taylor's parents, Dan and Lynn, were grateful for the scholarship. The couple also has three other children.
"We'll save a little bit of money. It is exciting for her,'' Dan Taylor said. "Georgia is one of three major schools that have phenomenal followings.''
Like most young girls who take up competitive gymnastics, Olympic dreams weren't far off. Taylor got farther than most, earning an invitation to the Olympic Trials in 2004. She finished 29th in the competition, but only the top six were picked for the team.
"It's still close, I did try,'' she said. "I got to trials. That was my Olympic experience.''
She has been under the tutelage of Draha Krizova and Radek Kriz at Aiken Gymnastics for several years, and she recently won the all-around title at the 2005 Friendship Classic.
And even if she doesn't compete beyond the collegiate level, Taylor thinks the college experience will only help her grow.
"It will help my future as a person, not necessarily as a gymnast,'' she said. "For women and gymnastics, older is not necessarily easier.''
Although she won't declare her major just yet, Taylor said she would like to pursue a degree in pediatric medicine. If that doesn't work out, she said she'd go into politics.
"When I was younger my coaches said I could compete when I was older but I don't think so,'' she said. "I'm already starting to feel like an old woman. It's been a long road my whole life.''
Reach John Boyette at (706) 823-3337 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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