As a former member of the University of Alabama Women's Gymnastics team, Sheryl Thienpont says she often got emails from her former coach, Sarah Patterson.
She was skimming the one she received Thursday morning when she learned the news that after 36 years as coach, Patterson was stepping down.
"My mouth fell open and I was like, ‘What in the world?' It was a big shock," Thienpont said. "I knew there was eventually going to be the day when it was going to happen. I just didn't expect it to happen this soon.
Thienpont competed from 1990 to 1994 on the beam and floor. She was also named an All American and was a part of the 1991 championship team. She remembers Patterson having two distinct coaching styles.
"She always looked after us, kind of like a momma duck with her baby ducks, making sure the ducks stay in line, but also having their best interests in mind," Thienpont recalled.
But when it came time to compete, Patterson was all about business.
"And that's kind of the admirable thing because she could do both so well. She could create this family environment but at the time, achieve incredible results," Thienpont said.
That's now the kind of balance Thienpont tries to instill as owner of Premier Gymnastics in Hoover. She tries to teach the young people the benefits of athletics along with character, family and academics.
And she's done it with class, just like she says Patterson did.
"That's the one word that describes Sarah Patterson: class. Everything she did was always achieving but she never took the low road. She always took the high road," Thienpont said.
Thienpont said she also has complete confidence in assistant coach Dana Duckworth as she moves to replace Patterson.
Duckworth and Thienpont were teammates on that 1991 championship team. Thienpont said Duckworth is a prototype of Patterson while also having her own creative ideas to help the program continue its success.
"I'm forever grateful," Thienpont said. "Looking back, that's one of the best decisions I ever made, going to Alabama and being part of the program, tradition and legacy that continues and will continue for a really long time."
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