Did It For Dave
Point Zero Three Seven Five.
That was the hashtag adopted by the women's gymnastics team for the 2019 season. Stemming from the difference that resulted in the Sooners coming in second instead of bringing home a third national title in 2018, the hashtag was the motivation to focus on the details and earn every single tenth of a point possible.
But when tragedy struck the team halfway through the 2019 season, a new motto emerged.
Do it for Dave.
And with the new motto came a new focus from points to purpose.
Losing a FriendDave Richardson was the husband of long-time athletic trainer Jenn Richardson. Known to most athletes who came through the program as their "Norman Dad," Dave was one of the team's biggest fans.
"Dave was someone who was always kind," 2019 senior Brenna Dowell said. "He was always there for you. When you walk on campus, the first thing you hear is that he is your Norman dad. He was one of those people you knew you could always turn to. One of the biggest things he gave to us was letting Jenn be with us all the time. He is our Norman dad, but Jenn is our Norman mom. She is the person you call in the middle of the night if you're sick. She is the person that is always at the gym if you need her really early in the morning. She is always there. For him to share her with us all the time was huge."
When Dave was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2016, the team immediately rallied around him, dedicating their 2017 season and third national championship to him. When the cancer returned in late 2017, the 2018 team continued to show their support with patches on every jacket displaying Dave's personal mantra of "Courage and Strength. Faith and Fight."
With the 2019 season approaching, Dave's prognosis worsened. Despite participating in a clinical trial in fall of 2018, his tumors had doubled. By the end of December, the cancer had spread to his spine.
Dave continued his work as a police officer, working mostly half-days as the cancer and treatments caused him to be more tired than normal. On weekends, Dave would spend all day in bed, meaning he couldn't make it to any of the home meets and Jenn would need to take their four-year old daughter Joie with her on road trips.
"Right before Denver, I thought about not going because he was really, really tired and wasn't feeling very good and he insisted that I go," Jenn said. "I really didn't think I should go but he told me I had to go because that was what I do, and it made him happy to see me happy. He would watch the meets on TV and see me smiling and laughing with the girls and coaches. He wanted me to keep doing that. I told him I'd have to bring Joie with me because I knew he couldn't take care of her. I had people checking on him that weekend but he basically didn't wake up much or eat. When I got back, I could tell he was significantly worse. I called the doctor to find out what we needed to do and that's when they admitted him in the hospital."
Jenn took a leave of absence from the program upon returning from Denver. The team knew Dave had been struggling in his latest fight with the cancer, but the coaching staff had opted to keep them in the dark, worried about how the news might affect them mentally and emotionally.
After the Feb. 15 meet at the Perfect 10 Challenge in Oklahoma City, the coaches gathered the girls and broke the news. The following day, they went to the hospital as a team to see Dave one last time.
"He told them he totally believed they were going to go out and win the national championship."
- Jenn Richardson
"They were told they weren't allowed to cry when they came in which was nearly impossible," Jenn said. "They were all crying before they even got off the elevator. It was really good for them to see that we were okay given everything that was going on. Joie and I were okay, Dave was his normal self. He didn't open his eyes a lot the whole time, but he was still talking to everybody and making jokes and picking on everybody. For them to be in there and see that he was doing as good as he could be doing was good for them."
The girls recapped the meet, filling Dave in about Olivia Trautman's perfect 10 and Maggie Nichols returning to the vault lineup. In return, Dave, who could hardly keep his eyes open, gave the girls a pep talk to get through the latter half of the season.
"He put on the coaching hat and gave a motivational speech laying in the bed with his eyes closed," Jenn said. "He told them he totally believed they were going to go out and win the national championship; nobody else in the country is better than they are, and nobody has a better staff than they do."
Three days later, on Feb. 19, Dave passed away.
"There were many tears shed because we were sad for Jenn and Joie and their whole family," Dowell said. "K.J. (Kindler), Tom (Haley), Lou (Ball), and Jenn are so close and their families are always together. It is really heartbreaking when something like that happens. We just tried to be there for one another."
A New Normal
In a strange twist of irony, the team was scheduled to compete at West Virginia, Jenn and Dave's alma mater, the Sunday following Dave's passing.
"It was ironic and amazing," rising senior Jade Degouveia said. "It was almost like we got to go and experience one last piece of him. I think the whole time we were at West Virginia we were kind of reminiscing and it was just nice to be where there is still a little part of him."
The team, without their trainer once again, struggled during the meet, just barely breaking the 197 threshold in a 197.100-195.350 victory.
"We were putting up a good front, but honestly it was weighing heavy on everybody," assistant coach Tom Haley said. "You've seen the stories before of those things happening and people having unbelievable performances and we didn't. We had an average performance and it was heavy while we were there. We were thinking about Dave all the time and that was his place. He was such a proud Mountaineer alum. We were driving around Morgantown and I'm just looking around and thinking of all the places Dave may have been while he was there and how important it was to him there. Seeing the blue and gold everywhere and knowing he had a Mountaineer room in his house was heavy."
Though Jenn wasn't in attendance, she still watched the meet, supporting the girls from afar.
"That week itself was kind of a blur for me," Jenn said. "I had no idea what was going on, who was competing, who wasn't. Bre (Showers) had just had surgery so she and her mom came over to watch the meet. We put it on the TV and the lineups are coming up and they're different than what we expected because Maggie didn't compete that meet and we're trying to figure out what was going on. It was just kind of surreal that the week he passed, they competed at West Virginia. They talked about it on the broadcast and K.J. told me they had presented the team with a really nice framed picture of Dave when he was a football player at WVU. I remember that day and watching the meet. They didn't have a great meet but they pulled it out."
After a few weeks away from the gym, Jenn returned to practice full-time just in time for Senior Night on March 15.
"I had to get my life into something somewhat normal again," Jenn said. "For me, work is normal life. This is what I do. Yes, I am a wife, I am a mother but I'm also an athletic trainer. I couldn't sit at home and just twiddle my thumbs. The worst thing for me is having silence. You can't sit at home and hide from the reality of the situation. We have a four year old and she doesn't really know what's going on and if mommy is at home every day all day long, that's not right. I had to kind of see if I could do it again. It was good – it needed to happen. I'm not one to sit at home alone. I had to work my way back to what our new normal was going to be."
For the staff, Jenn's return to the gym made a significant impact.
"It was like getting under a warm blanket," Haley said. "When she walked in, everyone felt safe. The part that was missing was noticeable. When she walked in it was as noticeable as she was gone. It was like the puzzle piece was back."
Having Jenn back in the gym also made a difference for the team as her absence made them realize just how much they depended on her on a daily basis.
"It was a huge weight off of our shoulders having Jenn back in the gym," Degouveia said. "I think once she left, we really realized how much we needed her. Having her back was a huge weight off our shoulder and we were extremely happy to see her."
With Jenn's return to the team, the Sooners thrived. First, an eighth consecutive Big 12 Championship. Then, a 10th straight regional title that saw the team post the highest road score in NCAA history.
With a bid to the NCAA Championships secured, there was just one more goal to accomplish: winning a national championship for Dave.
Did It For Dave
When the Sooners arrived in Fort Worth, Texas for the 2019 NCAA Championships, the signs pointing toward victory were everywhere.
"Every time we turned around, the decision we might make as a staff was really pointing to the presence of him," Haley said. "I would back track to when he gave a speech to those girls. He told them second place wasn't good enough and to finish what they started. I knew they were feeling all of this too and knew it and there was no doubt in their minds this was going to happen."
Throughout the season, the coaches had selected songs to represent the theme of each meet. The songs ranged in genres from Nina Simone's "Feeling Good" to Jay-Z's "Swagga Like Us." Each one was debated until the coaches were sure they had the right message for the team.
The coaches chose the song "24K Magic" by Bruno Mars as their song for the first night of competition. As the team and coaches sang along with smiles on their faces, Jenn sat quietly in the back, wiping tears from her eyes.
"We picked that song and I noticed Jenn started bawling in the back of the room," head coach K.J. Kindler said. "When she did I thought, 'Oh shoot, did I say something?' After everyone left, she said 'That's Dave's song,' and when it comes on their daughter says, 'That's daddy's song'. I had no idea when we picked it."
"It's so crazy, but he was their guardian angel just helping them land every dismount and stick every pass."
- Jenn Richardson
The message worked as the Sooners won the first night of competition and advanced to the finals.
On April 20, the Sooners won their fourth national championship. From the first rotation, there was no doubt in anyone's mind that Oklahoma was going to win.
"This was my fifth national championship and it was just different," Jenn said. "Everything about it was different. It's so crazy, but he was their guardian angel just helping them land every dismount and stick every pass. When Brenna stuck her vault, it was like she fell out of the sky, literally with an angel on her shoulder.
"I was actually crying after beam as we were walking to floor," Jenn continued. The beam rotation was just magical. It was unbelievable. I don't know if we had a beam rotation like that other than regionals all year. When we finished floor, I was like, ‘I have to keep it together.' If we land on our feet, we're probably okay but you still have to land on your feet. Brenna just darted into the ground and I completely lost it."
For Dowell, the moment was just as special.
"You can feel the Sooner Magic in the gym whenever it's a championship meet, and the Sooner Magic was a little bit different," Dowell said. "You knew you had a guardian angel up there and that was super special."
Given the chance, Haley would have one final message for Dave.
"We did it."
Story written by Lindsey Morrison, assistant director of communications.