Dana Duckworth on Becoming the New Gymnastics Coach
You'd be hard pressed to find anyone with more of a love for Crimson Tide gymnastics and everything it stands for than Dana Duckworth, who was named head coach of the Alabama program on Tuesday, July 15, 2014. That love and appreciation began on her recruiting trip to the University of Alabama in 1989, and carries on to today.
"I took recruiting trips to the top five schools - schools that are still in the top five today - and I felt something here," Duckworth said. "I felt a connection with the coaches and with the team, a chemistry that I knew, even then, that I would not find at a different school. I went on four other trips and they just solidified what I felt here at Alabama. I love our environment, I love our culture, I love our tradition and I love the fact that when you go out as an Alabama gymnast you represent all those things."
It was those same elements that made her decision to leave a lucrative career with Pfizer Pharmaceuticals to join the Alabama coaching staff on a full-time basis in the fall of 2008 after nine years as a volunteer coach with the Crimson Tide such an easy one.
"I really enjoyed what I was doing at Pfizer and it's a tremendous company but my heart and my passion have always been here at the Capstone with our program," Duckworth said. "I felt like this was an opportunity for me to do what I love and everyone I have ever talked to has said, if you love what you do, you'll never go to another day of work in your life."
It was an equally easy decision for Sarah and David Patterson.
"There was no search, there was no thought of someone else," Sarah Patterson said. "We are very excited to have Dana's enthusiasm, passion and love for our program in the gym on a full-time basis. We feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to work side-by-side with someone we believe represents the epitome of everything we have strived to achieve in our program and to have her help shape and mold the next generation of Alabama gymnasts."
Duckworth has now seen a national team championship from both sides, having been a part of the Tide's 1991 NCAA title as a sophomore and the 2002, 2011 and 2012 NCAA championships as a coach. She has also won conference titles as an athlete (1990) and a coach (2003, 2009 and 2011).
As much as Duckworth appreciates the championship tradition she has been a part of for so long, it's the overall atmosphere created by the people who live, work and go to school at Alabama that she truly appreciates.
"The people at the University of Alabama make everything unique and special," Duckworth said. "I love the fact that the University of Alabama is about tradition and culture. I tell people all the time that I feel like Tuscaloosa is the best-kept secret because we have it all here and everyone approaches things with a great deal of passion. It makes people's experience very special."
In addition to her infectious enthusiasm for the Crimson Tide and her skills as a technical coach, Duckworth also brings her standing as one of the nation's premier choreographers to the gym. Nothing could drive that point home quite like the success the athletes she has worked with have enjoyed.
When Geralen Stack-Eaton won the 2011 NCAA floor exercise championship to cap off an extraordinary junior season, it marked the fifth time that a Duckworth-choreographed routine won the NCAA floor title, including one each by Alabama's Morgan Dennis and Ashley Miles and a pair by North Carolina's Courtney Bumpers. During her storied Tide career, Miles earned four top-three national finishes on the floor, including the 2004 NCAA floor exercise championship. Duckworth also helped Miles win four consecutive Southeastern Conference and NCAA Regional floor exercise titles. Miles is the first gymnast in SEC history to win the same event all four years of her career.
"It's such a wonderful experience to be able to help these athletes bring out their personality and perform routines that shine," Duckworth said.
For the Pattersons, Duckworth brings more than simply coaching and choreography skills to the gym.
"Dana is a great role model for our ladies," Sarah Patterson said. "She enjoyed tremendous success in all aspects of her Alabama career, in the gym and in the classroom. Her experience is an invaluable resource to our ladies."
The Michigan native has also made an impact on the Tuscaloosa community, carrying on the Tide's tradition of community service as cofounder of ReadBAMARead, a charity dedicated to restocking three elementary school libraries that were destroyed in the tornado that tore through Tuscaloosa in April 2011. For her work in the community, she earned the 2012 David DeSantis Community Service Award.
"I'm so proud of what we've been able to accomplish through ReadBAMARead," Duckworth said. "The idea of giving back to the community is one of the bedrocks of our program and it's just one of the reasons I'm so proud to be a part of Alabama gymnastics."
Duckworth earned eight All-America accolades and finished her career in 1993 by winning her second consecutive NCAA balance beam title with a perfect 10.0. She was named NCAA Woman of the Year for the State of Alabama in 1993.
As a student, Duckworth was a three-year Scholastic All-American and a two-time CoSIDA at-large Academic All-American, an award that spans several sports. She was inducted into Mortar Board as an undergraduate and earned both an NCAA and SEC Postgraduate Scholarship, utilizing them to attend graduate school at Alabama and obtain her master's of business administration in 1998.
"I could have gone anywhere in the country to get my MBA," Duckworth said. "But I chose to come back to Alabama because Alabama's business school is one of the best in the country and I loved the size of the campus, I loved the MBA program and more than all that, it was a chance to come back to a place I consider home."
After graduating with her bachelor's degree, she moved up the corporate ladder quickly at AMX Corporation, a high tech firm out of Dallas. She finished her tenure there as manager of the company's training programs. After receiving her Master's degree, she served as Director of Marketing of a Trussville-based automotive company followed by a stint as Vice President of Corporate Solutions for a Birmingham company before returning to Tuscaloosa for a highly successful run with Pfizer.
Duckworth's return to Tuscaloosa also saw her start a family. She and her husband Joe, a Tuscaloosa native and partner in Duckworth-Morris Real Estate, married in 2000. The couple has a daughter, Camryn, born in 2004 and a son, Jace, born in 2006.