By David Elwell
The Decatur Daily

Gymnastics coach Lenette Calvin is always "looking for that little spark" that separates special athletes from the rest.

"You can see it when they warm up," Calvin said. "Not only are they dedicated to doing it right, they want it to be perfect every time. It's a unique quality that you don't often see."

Calvin said Katie Hughes had that "unique quality." She was a three-time gymnastics state champion at Decatur High for Calvin in the 1980s. She was also an AAU All-American in gymnastics. In college, she was a national champion diver at Emory University.

"Katie's attitude has always been that 'I can do anything,'" Calvin said. "She's a perfectionist with talent and focus."

The accomplishments in gymnastics and diving have placed her in the Morgan County Sports Hall of Fame.

Today, she is Dr. Katie Eick. She operates a mobile veterinary clinic in the Houston, Texas, area. The goal is to bring premium preventive pet care to the customer's house.

When Hurricane Harvey struck the Houston area in 2017, Eick's company played a key role in Houston having the first shelter facilities in the country that allowed pets.

"For many of the animals it was their first opportunity for preventive health care," Eick said.

The gymnastics bug bit Eick when she attended her first class at the age of 5 in Hartselle. Gymnastics didn't exist in Decatur at the time.

"I fell in love with gymnastics on that first day," Eick said.

Gymnastics finally came to Decatur and in a big way in 1978 when Austin hired Tom Calvin to be head football coach. Along with Tom came his wife Lenette, who was already a nationally-known gymnastics coach in Sylacauga. She coached gymnastics teams at both Decatur and Austin while operating her gymnastics club at Calhoun Community College.

"Mrs. Calvin was a force to reckon with and still is today," Eick said. "She was passionate about gymnastics and she held you accountable. To me, accountability is an important aspect in being a great coach."

Both Eick and Calvin remember one day at Calhoun when Katie headed to the dressing room to take out her frustrations on a locker.

"Mrs. Calvin had to have the patience of Job to put up with me," Eick said.

When Eick was in the eighth grade she quit gymnastics to be a cheerleader.

"She gave me her blessing, but it didn't take me long to decide that I had made a mistake," Eick said. "Thankfully, she let me come back."

Eick found her second favorite sport almost in her back yard. A few years after Point Mallard Park opened, a 10 meter tall diving tower with three platforms was constructed. It became a mecca for many of the top divers from around the country.

Jenny Chandler trained there before winning gold at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. Greg Louganis, who won gold in 1984 and 1988, trained there from 1976 to 1979.

"I got involved in diving from just hanging around the pool and watching," Eick said. "Gymnastics definitely helped with diving. The moves are so similar. The only real difference is learning how to land head first in water instead of feet first like in gymnastics."

In 1993, Eick won an NCAA Division III national championship with her 1½ inward somersault. She became Emory's first female diving champion and All-American. In 2008, she was inducted into the Emory Sports Hall of Fame.

Gymnastics is no longer sanctioned by the Alabama High School Athletic Association. That has not slowed the growth of the sport. Calvin Twisters continues to train new generations of gymnasts.

"The development of gymnastics in Alabama and around the Southeast is like a miracle," Calvin said. "Girls like Katie deserve a lot of credit. They set a standard for excellence that helped make the sport what it is today."

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