By Kevin Saxe
The date is Sept. 19, 2017
Kresge Gym was abuzz on the campus of Springfield College. Men’s and women’s gymnasts were in the early stages of prep for the annual Homeshow. They hadn’t even started any formal numbers; it was simply about getting back into the swing of things. One of those gymnasts practicing was then-sophomore Giancarlo Lawrence, better known to his peers as GC.
Coming off a solid freshman season, Lawrence had high hopes for the year. Then, in an instant, that all changed. As he went for a tumbling pass, Lawrence felt something pop. That pop was his Achilles tendon. As quick as it had started Lawrence’s season was over but this wouldn’t be the end of his journey, instead it would be a new challenge for Lawrence.
When there are only 15 NCAA Division I gymnastics teams, athletes may often travel far distances to make their dream a reality. The Springfield College men’s gymnastics team is no exception. Members of the team range from Massachusetts and New Hampshire to Florida and even as far out as California and Hawaii.
Lawrence is one of the far traveling members of the Pride. Hailing from Jacksonville, Fla. over 1,000 miles away, Lawrence was a three-sport athlete growing up. Since he was four years old, he participated in gymnastics, soccer, and diving until his senior year of high school.
When someone does multiple sports, they often choose to focus on one to advance past high school. For Lawrence, it was a tough choice.
He was All-Conference in soccer, an undefeated high school diver who holds his high school diving records as well as a superb gymnast, the options were certainly there. He received potential D-I offers in addition to D-II soccer offers. But Lawrence wanted to do gymnastics, and he knew since the summer of 2012.
“That was when the 2012 Olympics were, during my eighth grade summer going into freshman year. That’s when I started taking it more seriously and started prioritizing that practice more than soccer or diving,” he said. “I adjusted my soccer and diving practice so that I could have my full gymnastics practice.”
Lawrence loved having the spotlight on him, which drew him even more towards gymnastics.
“Having the spotlight just on you that’s what I like,” he said. “I love the pressure of having the spotlight on me.”
Despite knowing in his heart that gymnastics was the road he wanted to go down, it wasn’t easy passing up on scholarship opportunities. However, the harder part was telling his father, who was convinced that he would be diving somewhere in Florida.
“My dad came in all excited about offers from schools like FAU (Florida Atlantic University), and I was like, ‘Dad I don’t think I want to do diving.’ He was like, ‘Okay sure if you get a scholarship for gymnastics then sure you can go.’”
Erin Brackney knew that Lawrence had the skill and talent. She is the director of North Florida Gymnastics in Jacksonville, Fla. – the gym that Lawrence trained at. Brackney knew from the first time she saw him that he had potential to compete at the collegiate level.
“When Giancarlo came to us in 2014, we knew that he had massive amounts of potential. His work ethic and natural talent led him to his collegiate career,” Brackney said. “The daily grind and tough practices helped develop Giancarlo into the incredible young man he is today.”
Competing at a D-III school, those scholarships are not there. But as soon as Lawrence stepped foot on the Springfield College campus for an official visit, he knew it was a place he could see himself.
“I knew it was my calling to participate in keeping this tradition of Homeshow, the bond between the men and women’s team, and the program altogether thriving, and that’s where I get my motivation and pride to compete for this team,” he said.
After looking at multiple schools including Springfield, William & Mary and University of Illinois-Chicago, Lawrence settled on Alden St. for the next chapter of his life.
Back to Kresge Gym.
As Lawrence processed what happened with his Achilles, one of the first questions he asked was, “Am I out for the season?”
He pretty much knew the answer before even getting the response. Lawrence would have to miss his entire sophomore campaign.
With a setback that severe, people might think recovery is purely physical. For Lawrence, the injury was more of a mental challenge.
“I knew physically my body would respond to whatever I was doing and I’d be back in the gym before I knew it,” he said. “Mentally I would have to change what I did, not my personality but my behaviors and things I took for granted when I wasn’t injured like walking to class.”
However, it wasn’t just about the little things for Lawrence. One big thing was missing from his life. Although he was able to do some unofficial team activities with the team, Lawrence had more free time than he’d had before. While some might have just hid away and isolated themselves, Lawrence did the opposite.
“While I was injured I think I learned to go out of my comfort zone because gymnastics was all I knew and my team was all I knew,” he said. “It required me to make more friends and do activities I wouldn’t be able to do because of gymnastics. I took it as an opportunity to have new experiences.”
Matt Davis replaced the legendary Steve Posner after Lawrence’s freshman season as the head coach for men’s gymnastics. Davis was in the midst of preparing for his first Homeshow when Lawrence’s injury occurred. After the injury, Davis was the source of Lawrence’s determination to get back.
“He has always had the determination to get back to where he was as a gymnast and he has done that and more,” Davis said. “This goes to his hard work in the gym and in the off season for his desire to be better than he was before the injury occurred.”
One thing that can be a challenge through the recovery of any type of injury is feeling left out of team activities. Although he wasn’t listed on the roster, Lawrence took his medical redshirt year and participated in informal team activities while also being around during practice. He was part of every home meet in roles including being the public address announcer.
Lawrence, who would be cleared to return to competition for his junior year, knew he was physically ready to get back and compete. However, there was a new challenge stemming from his injury the year before.
Although he had felt mentally prepared through the preseason and worked with the athletic counselors, when he stepped up to compete in his first event of his junior season, a wave of emotions hit him.
“I felt a different kind of nerves,” he said. “Everything negative I could think of was going through my mind, like, “What if it happens again, or what if I can’t make it through my routine because I haven’t competed in so long?’”
“I remember as a freshman running and doing whatever skill I wanted to do and now I think about things like, ‘This is kind of sore is that going to mean anything?’ Last year I had that mentality of like hurting something or being scared to do something because I was scared of reinjuring myself.”
After completing last season still healthy, Lawrence seemed to grasp the idea that he could do his routine and not worry as much about reinjuring himself.
“This year, being another year removed from the injury, you can really see his confidence growing and his continued consistent performance is something that is very encouraging for the remainder of this year,” Davis said.
As Lawrence completes his senior year, his reflection hasn’t been solely about his growth as a gymnast, but also just as a person as a result of his injury.
“At first I was like, ‘Why is all of this happening to me? Like why am I being punished? What did I do, why does the universe hate me?’ I figured out they weren’t punishments, but lessons for me,” he said. “I never had a big challenge or blockade in my life so I think it was a wakeup call for me that you’re not always going to have it the way you want it in life.”
While the growth for Lawrence has been on display away from gymnastics, he has emerged as a leader in the gym.
“I believe the best way to describe GC is someone who keeps everything fun around him but can also be someone that can step into a leadership role,” Davis said. “His personality comes out through the Gymnastics Exhibition Show each year as well as spontaneous dancing to the music blasting in Kresge Gym during our practices. He has grown into a leader with the other senior class members to help keep our team focused on what we need to achieve each practice and competition.”
Lawrence has also focused on giving back to the sport that gave him so much coaching at North Florida Gymnastics over breaks.
“His work ethic is priceless,” she said. “Giancarlo was always a great guy to have around in the gym, everyone absolutely loved him.”
“It’s not just coaching gymnastics, it’s being a mentor, a friend, a leader, and a cheerleader for every kid you coach. Just as when he was a gymnast, we were sad to see him leave as a coach. We are thrilled that he chooses to come back and work our camps in the summer and the kids absolutely love him.”
Although he does have a medical redshirt year in his back pocket if he wants it, he’s not certain he will use it. With this most likely being his last ride at Springfield, Lawrence’s message for his senior season is simple.
“I want to go full out this last year competing for Springfield and see what I can really do.”
His goals are also straightforward.
“Qualify for NCAA’s in my event and become an All-American. I also want to help the team as much as I can and get as much out of this year as possible.”
Featured photo courtesy Springfield College Athletics