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Gators senior Ashanée Dickerson has become a fan favorite during her All-American career.

Friday March 1, 2013Fan Favorite Dickerson Blossoms when Showtime Arrives

Gators senior Ashanée Dickerson has become a fan favorite during her All-American career.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It can be jarring at first.

You ask yourself if perhaps there are two of them, whether one of the identical twins performs those dynamic floor routines in front of thousands at the O'Connell Center, and the other comes out later to talk about it in that soft-as-a-mouse voice.

How could it be the same person?

Even Pattie Dickerson, whose daughter Ashanée Dickerson will perform in the final regular-season home meet of her UF gymnastics career Friday night when the Gators host Minnesota on Senior Night, is still surprised sometimes by the youngest of her four children.

"I don't think she knows how good she is,'' Pattie said Thursday from the family's Jacksonville home.

As for her daughter's quiet, unassuming nature, well, Pattie can't really explain that either.

"I'm able to talk to anybody. My husband is the same way,'' Pattie said. "Nobody is a stranger to us. I don't know where she gets her personality from."

But when the lights come on, the crowd pours in and the music cranks up, the shy little girl who Pattie first hauled to Gymnastics Unlimited in Jacksonville 15 years ago for an hour once a week -- so Ashanée would have something to do while her older siblings played other sports -- blossoms before everyone's eyes.

She breaks out a big smile and sassy dance moves, captivating the audience with her floor routine as a fan favorite. Dickerson's powerful body bounces across the floor and high into the air, all part of a routine that is a mix of choreographed chaos and raw athleticism.

She chuckles softly at questions about her sudden, startling transformation.

While it may look easy for the eight-time All-American when she moves from routine to routine, excelling in the vault, bars and beam as well, Dickerson has climbed mountains to develop that vibrant floor routine that brings people to their feet.

At 5-foot-5, Dickerson is taller than most gymnasts. She had to work tirelessly on improving her flexibility and form.

Dickerson was so good on the floor Feb. 8 against Alabama -- scoring a collegiate-best 9.975 to help the Gators knock off defending national champion Alabama -- she got a standing ovation that sent chills down her spine.

"I had to work,'' she said. "My freshman year I was very shy on and off the floor. Through the years I've been really working hard to show my personality out there on the floor.

"I'd much rather speak with my actions than my words. I kind of get lost in my words and don't know what to say. When I'm doing gymnastics, I know what I need to do and just go out there and have fun with it."

Away from the gym, Dickerson stays close to her roots.

She is very close to her family and those she grew up with in Jacksonville. Once she completes her eligibility this spring as the Gators attempt to win the program's first national title, Dickerson plans to return home over the summer and teach at her old gymnastics studio before returning to school to finish her Anthropology degree in December. Her goal is to become a detective once she graduates.

Dickerson's family, former coaches and the entire Gymnastics Unlimited roster will be at the O'Connell Center on Friday to watch her final home meet. They are also coming to watch one of Dickerson's former teammates back home, Minnesota sophomore Cierra Tomson.

Emotions will run deep for Pattie, who never expected something she thought would be a good recreation activity for her then-6-year-old daughter would become such a huge part of the family's life.

"She was so quiet,'' Pattie said. "She went everywhere I went. I wanted her to find herself. It's been very exciting. She has jumped leaps and bounds. I'm sad, real sad [it's almost over]. I don't know what I'm going to do."

The day Gators coach Rhonda Faehn discovered Dickerson, she was actually in Jacksonville to watch an older teammate of Dickerson's. A coach told Faehn she needed to watch the young girl in the orange-and-blue leotard.

Faehn did, and as they say, the rest is history.

Still, Faehn didn't expect this kind of history. Dickerson has nine event titles this season and 67 for her career, which currently is good for fourth in school history.

"Every single year of her four years here have been outstanding,'' Faehn said. "There are very few athletes who have come through this program who have been exceptional for all four years.

"She has far exceeded whatever we could have imagined her contributing on a consistent basis. It's what every coach would hope for."

And like everyone else at the O'Connell Center on Friday night, Faehn's undivided attention will be on Dickerson when she takes center stage for her floor routine.

She turns from coach into fan.

"It's art. It's something that she and all the other athletes have to learn how to do,'' Faehn said. "They have to pull the audience in and get them to feel what they want out of the routine. She has done a really great job, especially this year of opening up and showing it off."

Dickerson plans to give the crowd what it wants since fans have given her so much the past four years, one final transformation as a going-away gift.

"It went by fast,'' she said. "It's been amazing. [The fan support] is very special to me. Coming in here I didn't know that would happen to me. I'm just thankful for all of it."

And afterward, Dickerson will go quietly into the night.


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