Nearly two decades of leaps, twists, spins, flips and handstands have taken a serious toll on Bailey Fitzpatrick’s body.
The Burlington High School graduate and UW-Whitewater senior has suffered sprained ankles, sore wrists and torn knee ligaments during her gymnastics career.
But for Fitzpatrick, purpose trumps pain. On the inside—in her mind and in her heart—she still can do anything and everything on the equipment.
“My heart has always wanted to be out there and competing no matter how bad the injuries were,” Fitzpatrick said.
She’s still competing, but not for much longer. This weekend Fitzpatrick and her UW-Whitewater teammates will go for their third straight National Collegiate Gymnastics Association national championship at UW-Oshkosh.
It will be Fitzpatrick’s final meet after four years on the Warhawks squad, after four years of gold-medal success with the Burlington co-op team, and after years of grueling training and pressure-packed meets.
She started tumbling on mats when she was just three years old, following the footsteps of her two older sisters.
At Burlington, she was one of the most decorated gymnasts in the history of the co-op team. She won four individual gold medals at her first two state meets in 2012 and 2013. The state record of 10 gold medals, held by Beth Weber of Shorewood/Whitefish Bay, was clearly in sight.
But in 2014, she completely tore the posterior cruciate ligament and partially tore the mediate cruciate ligament in her left knee. A week after the injury, Fitzpatrick was back on the mats and practicing with her team. She said the thought about not competing at state never crossed her mind.
“She’s a bulldog that way,” said former Burlington Co-op head coach Diane Biedrzycki in 2015. “It was never a case of talking her back on to the equipment, it was a matter of holding her back. We had one conversation before state that she might be doing too much. It was hard for her to water things down.”
She competed at state, but her best finish was a fourth place. She also discovered just how much she loved the sport.
“That injury definitely put a lot more fight in me,” Fitzpatrick said. “But it wasn’t about staying motivated; it was about staying connected with the sport and putting in the work I needed to to get back into action. It kept me hungry for more.”
She came back in 2015 and took home two more gold medals, winning the vault and the balance beam.
That hunger for success has stayed with Fitzpatrick during her time with the Warhawks.
At last season’s national championship meet, she was part of the team’s program-record score of 193.700 and program-record score on bars (48.675). She did her part by posting a season-best 9.725 at the meet.
This season she has scored a 9.575 on the bars at two meets, and a 9.3 on vault. At the WCGA West Regional meet on March 9—where Whitewater placed third—she posted a 9.475 on bars and a 9.10 on vault.
Whitewater coach Jennifer Regan, who has coached the Warhawks to five national championships in her 17 years with the program, had nothing but good things to say about Fitzpatrick.
“Bailey has been a huge part of our program,” Regan said. “She is one of our leaders and role models. She has been great helping her teammates believe in themselves and helping them reach their fullest potential.”
Fitzpatrick was one of six members of Whitewater’s squad to be named to the NCGA’s first-ever All-Championship team. The selection was based on their performance during the regular season and during the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Championship/NCGA West Regional.
“The recognition means a lot to me,” Fitzpatrick said. “But this is more about the team and all we’ve accomplished together. We have all worked really hard this year and this award is just a byproduct of our dedication to the sport.”
Whitewater shared the NCGA championship in 2012 then won it out-right in 2013, 2014, 2017 and last season. The Warhawks beat UW-La Crosse by more than a point in 2018, 193.700 to 192.550.
So what are the expectations for the back-to-back Division III national champions heading into this year’s meet?
“We just want to do what we’ve been doing all season,” Fitzpatrick said. “We persevere when things get tough and it will be no different when we compete at the championships.”
With gymnastics behind her once and for all, Fitzpatrick plans to get her Master’s degree once she graduates from Whitewater.
“I studied abroad last year in Vietnam, Cambodia and Bali and helped out in underprivileged communities,” Fitzpatrick said. “I got a lot of hands-on experience and that’s something I want to do in my future career, whether it be in the United States or abroad. I want to be able to help people any way I can.”
And despite all the aches and pains she has endured in the past years, Fitzpatrick also wants to keep gymnastics in her life.
“One day, I’d love to coach or just be involved in some way,” she said. “Because this is the sport I’ve given my whole life to.”