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One last ride: Whitworth and Horner aim to cap off accomplished careers with senior season success

Seniors Gabby Whitworth and Jerzie Horner have accomplished high school gymnastics careers. Both decided this was going to be their final season in the sport after 11 combined years at the varsity level and nearly three decades in the gym. Whitworth and Horner looked back on their time with the program while gearing for what they hope is another championship-level season.

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Gabby Whitworth gets a hug from Jerzie Horner after completing her first bars routine of the season at the Jackie Mann Invitational at The Hive in Perham on Dec. 4, 2021. Whitworth and Horner head into their final seasons as gymnasts as two accomplished members of the Detroit Lakes gymnastics program.
Jared Rubado / Detriot Lakes Tribune
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DETROIT LAKES – Seniors Gabby Whitworth and Jerzie Horner have experienced a lot of firsts in high school gymnastics.

Six years ago, Horner had her first varsity practice. A year later, Whitworth had hers. They’ve shared their first section championships, state appearances and state championships. They’ve been through their first successes and failures in practice and competitions.

This is the last season of firsts for two of Detroit Lakes’ accomplished gymnasts.

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Detroit Lakes' Jerzie Horner scores an 8.85 on the bars routine on Feb. 12, 2022 at Lakeshirts Fieldhouse in the Section 8A championships.
Jared Rubado / Detroit Lakes Tribune

“We’ve been in sports together forever,” Whitworth said. “Thinking that this is our last year–I can’t believe it. It’s something I’ve been trying to wrap my head around. I’ve been doing gymnastics for so long. I’ve been in the gym for 15 years. I’m just going to take it all in and enjoy this with my friends.”

Both Horner and Whitworth decided their senior seasons would be their last without exploring the opportunity to compete at the collegiate level. After nearly 15 years in the gym, the sport has taken its toll.

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“I decided a couple of years ago that I was going to be done,” Whitworth said. “I’ve had years to come to terms with it. It’s obviously going to be sad when it’s all done, but I don’t have a part in me that wants to keep doing this after high school. It’s hard on your body, and I’m ready to leave it all out there for one more year. I’m ready for a new chapter of my life after this season.”

Whitworth is applying for colleges out of state, while Horner will continue her athletic career at the Division I level. She’s attending the University of North Dakota for pole vaulting after winning the Section 8-2A championship her junior season. Horner also cited injuries as a reason for her decision.

“It’s difficult to know that this is my last year and to come to terms with it, but I’m ready,” Horner said. “I don’t think my body can take much more. I’ve come to peace with it. I’ve gotten what I wanted out of it.”

Whitworth and Horner helped the Lakers return to the Class A state meet with a 10th section championship in program history. It was the first team title since 2019, the last of a six-year streak.

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Detroit Lakes' Gabby Whitworth scores a 9.225 on the beam at the state Class A individual gymnastics meet on Feb. 19, 2022 at the Roy Wilkins Auditorium in St. Paul.
Jared Rubado / Detroit Lakes Tribune

Whitworth finished in sixth place in the all-around standings at state. She and Horner helped lead the Lakers to a sixth-place finish in the team competition, and are looking for more this time around.

We need to be a team,” Horner said. “Last year, we didn’t really get that until the end of the season. Then it clicked, and it made that success come easier. If we’re able to be together more and come together as a team sooner than we did last year, then we can do amazing things.”

Whitworth first qualified for state individually in 2019 as an eighth-grader on the vault. A year later, she claimed state berths in three events. That same year, Horner made her state debut on the vault.

During their sophomore seasons, Horner finished 16th at state with an all-around score of 35.550. Whitworth also qualified on the floor, beam and bars.

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Detroit Lakes head coach Leesa Lindgaard has seen Whitworth and Horner develop into leaders in and out of the gym. She’s excited to see how they finish their careers this winter.

“It’s always bittersweet,” Lindgaard said. “These kids worked so hard to get to that last season, and you just hope for the best for them and that they continue to improve, get better and end on a high note.”

The gymnastics program is more than just a team for Horner.

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Detroit Lakes' Jerzie Horner scores an 8.175 on the bars at the state Class A individual gymnastics meet on Feb. 19, 2022 at the Roy Wilkins Auditorium in St. Paul. Matt Horner, right, is an assistant coach for the Detroit Lakes gymnastics program.
Jared Rubado / Detroit Lakes Tribune

“For me, this has been so special because my dad (Matt Horner) is one of the coaches,” she said. “When I made it to state for the first time as an individual, him being there with me and being there for everything meant so much. I love getting that extra time with him because he works far away. I like that I get to share my dad with the other girls and let him give them his knowledge. I’m really proud of him for being an amazing coach.”

Sports are valuable because of the lessons they teach. Horner believes her time in gymnastics has prepared her for the next stage of her life.

“You have to work for what you want to be successful. Nothing is given to you in this sport,” Horner said. “Even this year, as a senior, we have such a big team with a lot of girls competing for spots. Even we have to earn it. We’re going to have to compete, and I think that’s a good thing to take into the real world. Nothing is given to you in life. Being able to find that balance of competing against and for your team is something we’ve learned from doing gymnastics.”

For Whitworth, the gym became a sanctuary. It’s solidified friendships that will last long after her final routine.

“I’m going to take away the relationships I made with people,” Whitworth said. “All the coaches and the girls–just that second family kind of thing. I can’t wait to come back to the gym. It’s been my second home for 15 years of my life.”

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Two of the Lakers’ top gymnasts this season will wrap up 11 combined years in the program. They’re going out the only way they know how: together.

“It’s a weird feeling,” Horner said. “I’ve been saying things to myself like, ‘Last first practice,’ ‘Last first meet.’ It’s the last first of everything for us, and it’s so special to be able to do this with Gabby because she’s my best friend. I get to experience all of this with her, and it’s amazing.”

Related Topics: DETROIT LAKES LAKERSPREP SPORTSGYMNASTICS
Jared Rubado is the sports editor for the Detroit Lakes Tribune and the Perham Focus. He moved to the area in September of 2021 after covering sports for the Alexandria Echo Press for nearly three years. Jared graduated from the University of Augustana in 2018 with degrees in journalism and sports managment.
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