A Giving Heart

By Shea Mahoney

As long as I can remember, I have found true joy in giving back. I grew up in a home filled with unconditional love and joy, and my parents consistently encouraged me to fulfill the calling on my heart to serve and love others as best as I could.

Thanks to my journey as a gymnast at Alabama, I’ve been able to take that life of service to the next level.

Gymnastics and Alabama have given me amazing opportunities and allowed me the chance to get in touch with my heart of service.

All That Glitters

As a little girl, I gravitated to gymnastics, despite trying out a lot of other sports. When I first got started, I remember just doing flips around the living room. I loved picking out a sparkly leotard and taking part in all that glitters. This was so exciting to me!

The other part I loved about gymnastics was the freedom it offered.

See, my family was big into baseball, and I love that sport too, but gymnastics was my thing. Out there, I had the opportunity to write my own story.

I rode that love into high school. I started getting recruited in my freshman year, which was pretty exciting. It was fun thinking about all the different college options. But, Alabama stuck out.

They literally saw me on my worst day ever. I’m not even making this up – I fell on every single event. Seriously, it was like I got hit by a bus. Still, they looked beyond that day and saw my abilities and wanted me to join their program.

It felt like they wanted me because of who I truly was. And that really resonated with me.

I know I made the right decision when I committed to Alabama. This school and team were a great fit.

My collegiate career brought me a ton of memorable moments. One of my favorites happened at the regional championships last year.

We fell short of making the national championships by 0.25 points. Not only did we miss out, but it was also the first time we didn’t make it to the nationals in 36 years. 36 years! And we were 0.25 points short.

I remember our team huddled up after the final results and we all looked at each other. There was this raw vulnerability on the face of every single girl. There were no excuses. No self-blame. No pointing fingers. No “Well, we still did great!” None of that.

It was just a moment of emotion and vulnerability met with the feeling that we never wanted to go through this again.

It’s one of the moments I’ll cherish most about my gymnastics career, because it exemplified something bigger than gymnastics. We grew tremendously as a team and friends that day.

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There were times when I would get upset about a tough practice or meet, but there are people who are literally fighting for their lives every single day. It struck a chord with me. Despite not having any real history with cancer, I wanted to help.

A Brick Of Perspective

Gymnastics also impacted my life big-time outside of the floor. 

In my sophomore year, our team went on a visit to Manderson Cancer Center to promote an upcoming meet.

Once I got there, I felt like a brick of perspective hit me on the head.

There were times when I would get upset about a tough practice or meet, but there are people who are literally fighting for their lives every single day.

It struck a chord with me. Despite not having any real history with cancer, I wanted to help.

While I couldn’t change anyone’s outcome or prognosis, I could still try to lift up their spirits and brighten their day.

I ended up interning with the Cancer Center for a year and a half as a volunteer, coming by and just talking with people and helping wherever I could.

Getting to know some of the incredible men and women who were in a constant battle really inspired me and only made me more willing to help those less fortunate.

One experience I’ll always hold dear was the “Just for You Day.”

The event invited any patient, past or present, to come by and essentially enjoy a full day dedicated to them together. There were salons, massages, food, drinks, and more – it was just a fantastic time.

I was lucky enough to be put in charge of the main event, a fashion show with some of the patients. I got to be the emcee as well. It was so great to be able to announce these amazing people as they walked on stage and share every participant’s story of persistence.

It was breath-taking!

All those memories are things I’ll never forget. But what makes it even better is that I got to incorporate these experiences with gymnastics.

Power Of Pink

Last year at our annual “Power of Pink” meet, a meet dedicated to raise awareness in the fight against breast cancer, I had the honor of walking out with two incredible patients from the center.

Instead of calling our names when we walk out on the floor, they called out the names of those inspiring survivors.

One of the ladies had a pretty tough battle leading up to attending the competition with me.

A year before we walked out, she was in rough shape. During the whole time she was fighting for her life, she was also caring for her two-year-old daughter. Her story resonated with me deeply.

I remember during one of her rough patches, she told me that no matter what, her goal is to walk out with me on that “A” at the center of the floor during our “Power of Pink” event.

Sure enough, a year later, there she was, right next to me, standing on that “A.”

It definitely gave me an extra spark of motivation. I nailed my routine with a personal high.

After I finished, I ran over to her and we shared a hug through tears of joy.

It was literally one of the most special moments of my life that perfectly tied in my love of serving and my passion for gymnastics.

Thank You

Once I graduate from The University of Alabama, I’ll be hanging up my leotard and retiring from gymnastics. While it was one of the great joys of my life, I have other aspirations.

As a sports management major, I hope to get involved in athletics after school. Whether its pro, college, or whatever, I want to help people in sports like those who helped me.

No matter what comes next, I’ll always be thankful for the many blessings Alabama has provided me. God has given me this heart that is so full to serve others. And, Alabama has given me a platform to use this heart.

Thank you, Alabama.

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