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The Daily Wildcat

 

Lexi Mills’ final routine: ‘I can. I am. I will.’

Arizona+gymnast+Lexi+Mills+celebrates+her+stick+after+a+beam+routine+in+McKale+Center+on+Saturday%2C+Feb.+13.+Mills+will+compete+on+the+balance+beam+at+the+NCAA+Championships+in+Fort+Worth%2C+Texas.
Tom Price
Arizona gymnast Lexi Mills celebrates her stick after a beam routine in McKale Center on Saturday, Feb. 13. Mills will compete on the balance beam at the NCAA Championships in Fort Worth, Texas.

At the age of 8, Lexi Mills’ mother received rather negative news from her gymnastics coach.

“Your daughter is never going to be a gymnast,” the coach said. “She is really behind. You should pull her out now.”

Now, at the age of 21, Mills will be competing at the NCAA Championships on the balance beam.

“It’s funny because I’m the only girl left from that team,” Mills said. “I’m the only girl in college athletics. I love gymnastics and I’m just thankful to still be doing it.”

That thankfulness has continued to push Mills to succeed.

“I think I’ve grown a lot as a person, a teammate and a leader,” Mills said. “I learned a lot from the girls ahead of me. … Having someone like [Katie Matusik] really taught me how to grow as a person and showed me that I want to step up and become a leader for my other teammates.”

While Mills learned from her peers and coaches, she battled constant pain in her shins every day in college.

“I had a shin injury for my four years here, pretty much,” Mills said. “I didn’t find out what it was until my junior year, so I think Stephanie [Gross] being able to figure out what that injury was and how we could treat it really helped in my process. It gave me the opportunity to compete on the beam because, without it, I don’t think my shins would have been well enough to perform as well as I should be.”

By the time Mills hits the mat in Fort Worth, Texas, she will have a lot on her mind. For 15 years, she practiced the sport every day, competing in “tens of thousands” of beam routines.

“I get that one beam routine and we will see how it goes,” Mills said. “[I’m] just going to do my best and have fun out there. Especially being a senior, I feel like I’m really honored to go out there and represent Arizona.”

Six words have resonated with Mills this season and she has taken them with her every step of the way: I can. I am. I will.

“Those are the words that Tabitha Yim uses,” Mills said. “She speaks to me about that before every routine. The past few routines I’ve done, I’ve really thought about it more. … I only have a few more times that I get to compete for the [UA]. I’m really thankful that I get to compete one more time for them.”

Mills has learned over and over again what it means to be a team player during her time as a Wildcat. It’s why she asked fellow senior Shelby Edwards to be by her side when she competes in the championships. It’s why she put her heart and soul into a sport for so many years, anxious to influence one more group of underclassmen.

“They are all my best friends,” Mills said. “I just want to help them grow as athletes. I have learned a lot from the seniors that I had and the other girls who were on the team before me. … It’s important to be there for everyone on and off the floor. Hopefully that’s what I’ve done and they will take it, learn from it and be great seniors also.”

Mills, who was born in Frisco, Texas, will perform one final routine in front of the people she loves, including her grandparents, aunts and uncles, and immediate family.

“Coming full circle and being able to compete in my last routine at home in front of all my family is just really special to me,” Mills said. “Competing in Texas one last time.”

The NCAA Championships will take place April 15-16 in Fort Worth.

“I just want to have fun,” Mills said. “It’s my last routine ever.”


Follow Matt Wall on Twitter.


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