The Triumphs and Tumbles of Grace Hanley

Hanley to compete at Hawaii Pacific University for acrobatics and tumbling

Stunt teams practices lifts and routines for upcoming competition.

A small army of light feet, all bouncing, pressing and jumping with fierce energy. The call of a group of girls, “one … two … three.” Varying black and white shoes leap readily with every count. The stare of the coach is illuminated by her short comments. “Keep those knees up, back row,” she commands calmly.

The captains, cheerful and motivating, call out “everyone needs to be counting!” The hum of voices rises slightly. The counting fluctuates, sometimes slow and delayed with the longer exercise, sometimes quick with the lighter-footed ones. They finally finish with a flourish of heavier breaths, and the patter of feet alternates as they walk over the plastic mat.

You hear three groups solidify, and begin practicing. There is a lag, then a count, then the sound of lifting, rolling, and falling with sharper sounds against the mats. The voice of the coach calls out every so often, criticism and praise a constant.

Senior co-captain Grace Hanley and senior co-captain Lindsy Rapp lead the group, encouraging the counting, arms ready to catch the young girl who vaults seconds later into the organized group of stunt enthusiasts. They count steadily as the group prepares to support her, lifting her into the air, holding her for a few counted moments and then lower her to the floor with a professional flourish.

Having been a competitive gymnast for years, Hanley has experiences and skills that qualified her to be a co-captain with Rapp. Hanley works to instruct and help the team master their routines, making sure to correct any errors and help perfect their moves.

“As my co-captain, she’s very driven. She makes sure everyone tries their hardest and doesn’t give up when one thing doesn’t go right,” Rapp said.

Stunt is an athletic and competitive style derived from classic cheerleading. The sport was first introduced to Oak Park three years ago. Hanley joined her junior year and has been on the team since.

“She’s very confident in her tumbling and has improved immensely with her stunting abilities since she joined the team last year,” Rapp said.

During the practice, there were so many small technicalities, so minuscule yet so important to every move. One mistake, and a girl would flop back into the team’s waiting arms. Done correctly, she’d be elevated to the ceiling and lowered. The pressure seen during practice is magnified in competition, according to Hanley.

“You have to know which routines you’re in because there’s 18 of them. They call your routine so you have to go out there and do it … it can get really stressful,” Hanley said.

The team practices Mondays and Thursdays and it can be difficult to balance and maintain the demands of stunt and academics, according to Hanley and stunt team member Piper Dobson.

“The sport takes up so much time. I usually get home pretty late, and I don’t have much time for homework. Also, when I get home I am too tired to do my work,” Dobson said.

For Grace, the bar has been elevated to the pressures and stresses of college and career. She, with her hopes for the future, adapts to the struggles and finds an equilibrium of all of it.

“I … thought [joining stunt] would be a great opportunity to gain some experience with stunting as I prepare to join Hawaii Pacific University’s Acrobatics and tumbling team this fall. Gymnastics and stunt definitely make it harder to get school work done but I learned how to manage my time and find a balance between school and sports,” Hanley said.

Most important is the dynamic between the team and Hanley. Being so close together under such pressured circumstances has created a strong team dynamic and bond, according to Hanley.

“A lot of the girls inspire me because we’re all very hardworking and driven and it’s … a very supportive environment,” Hanley said.

With a smile forming on her lips, Hanley talks about her teammates and the relationship they’ve all formed and shared as they navigate the difficulty of this sport.

“The whole team is very supportive. We all make sure we have a good relationship and we do team bonding stuff and we make sure we’re all on the same page,” Hanley said.