One Tough Cookie

McQuillin quietly leading first class of Gym’Back seniors

In her gray Gym’Back hoodie, Dana McQuillin not only looks small for her height but seems to be incredibly tiny in bulk. The petite figure is a shocking sight to those who’ve never seen McQuillin in action. But past the oversized jacket and small size is a competitor who has fought like a giant over the last four years.

Like most gymnasts, the 5-4 senior has been tumbling before high school and she has made an impressive career since her freshman year at Arkansas. McQuillin’s first meet at Arkansas had her competing in just one event, the uneven bars. She quickly moved to becoming a regular competitor in the all-around by the end of that year.

In here sophomore year, McQuillin only continued the blossoming of an impressive collegiate career. She became the first Gym’Back to ever become Southeastern Conference Gymnast of the Week while also setting records for the bars and the all-around events.

“For me, I prefer the all-around event. It’s what I’m used to doing. I can get in the zone a little better if I don’t have to break up my events,” said McQuillin.

Now in the middle of her final year for the Gym’Backs, McQuillin has managed to set the school record for all-around with a score of 39.5, and she holds seven of the top nine all-around scores in UA history.

With all these impressive statistics, McQuillin said the best part of the 2006 season has been getting her confidence back from a “rougher season, than I would have liked last year.”

McQuillin’s rough season last year included being the first Gym’Back in program history to reach the NCAA finals as an individual in the all-around event. McQuillin didn’t seem to notice her own modesty when she said this. Instead she was more concerned about what she needed to do to be better for the rest of the season.

“I’m plugging away but I had some consistency issues and I want to keep doing well on that,” she said.

Co-head coaches Mark and Rene Cook said McQuillin has been performing this year as well as she always has as an Arkansas gymnast.

“She’s steady-eddy,” said Renee Cook. “She just gets her job done. She competes in all-around, and contributes to every event.”

“Dana’s just clean and consistent. She’s one of the major rocks in our program,” said Mark Cook. The Cooks said McQuillin has led the team by example and in a positive way by simply having a good spirit out on the gym floor.

McQuillin also speaks modestly about her role as one of the five seniors on the squad – the first senior class in Gym’Back history.

“I’m just trying to do my thing and hope I’m setting an example for everyone else,” she said. “We had a team of freshmen when I first started and it took us a little while to learn how to work together as a team. We were all trying to figure these things out together and we did.”

She said that the most exciting thing about the 2006 season is that Arkansas will be hosting an NCAA Regional for the first time. It will be a nice homecoming for this senior’s final events.

After this final year of eligibility, McQuillin said she plans to finish her studies at the university, “focusing on my interior design.” For McQuillin, completing the final year of a double major in interior design and sociology won’t be that hard. During high school, McQuillin was in marching band as well as being involved in club gymnastics. This year she is taking 15 hours on top of her weekly workout with the team.

“These kids have to have great time-management skill to be able to balance all this,” said Mark Cook. “Most people don’t realize how hard these kids work. We have Tuesday and Thursday strength training. On Monday and Wednesday we have gym training with a little on Thursday. And on Friday, we travel and compete.”

McQuillin said, however, that she wouldn’t completely leave the world of gymnastics behind her. She said she will work with the athletic department and with Julie Cain, the athletic trainer. She will also help with building management.

Stretched out on a couch, with her hands inside her hoodie, McQuillin gives a happy, nonchalant shrug when asked how she feels about her career as a gymnast.

“Yeah, love it,” she grinned.

– Arkansas Traveler, Feb. 16, 2006

[Original piece available here.]

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