In pursuit of success - Gymnast's grit, determination opens doors of opportunity
November 13, 2013
In the gym, Hilary Green is known to be fearless and driven. Not even the beehive of activity one expects of 20 to 30 gymnasts in various stages of practice distracts the 5-foot, 3-inch, 116-pound gymnast.
She hesitates only to focus on what her coach advises for a better routine. Her brown eyes fixate on the balance beam before her and with all the strength and grace of a polished athlete, she explodes onto the 4-inch-wide, 16.5-feet-long apparatus and executes a flawless series of back handsprings, flips, turns, layouts and then sticks the dismount.
It's a focus and drive that Robert Dillard, her mentor and coach at the Calvin Twisters Gymnasium in Decatur, Ala., said sets her apart from her peers here and at James Clemons High School in Madison, Ala., where she'll graduate in May 2014.
Dillard should know. He's coached gymnastics since 1965 when he started a youth program at Northeast YMCA in Birmingham, Ala. This was followed by a 10-year stint at Jacksonville State University, Ala., where he established the women's gymnastics program, then 14 years at Auburn University, Ala., where he coached the women's gymnastics team to consecutive wins at the National Collegiate Athletic Association and Southeastern Conference championships.
"She's what I call the real deal. The kid can do just about anything she wants to do. She's super-focused," he said. "Hilary's not your average high school senior. She's one of the most focused gymnasts I've ever worked with."
It's a focus and determination Dillard attributes to her upbringing in a military environment.
"You've got to understand, she comes from a military family and she's made a lot of changes in her life. She's had to change schools, make new friends, go to different gyms," he said. "That's not easy to do as a teenager. She's weathered the storm."
That military upbringing stems from her mother, Kimberly Green, who retired from the Army in December 2010 after serving 25 years. Her last assignment was as Plans and Operations G-3 sergeant major with the U.S. Army Contracting Command, Huntsville, Ala. Now a Department of the Army civilian, she boasts a bachelor's degree in business administration from Troy University and is employed in that same office as an operations specialist.
Growing up in Kasota, Minn., with a population of 675, Kimberly said there were few opportunities for employment outside of the stone quarry industry. Her father worked as a truck driver hauling stone and her mother worked in an electrical factory, then restaurant management business.
The eldest of seven siblings, Kimberly had higher ambitions and joined the Army Reserve to take advantage of the service's education benefits. A year later, she joined the active Army "so I could be 'employed' along with receiving the college benefits," she said.
Dillard said, "It's these same attributes -- drive, determination and focus -- that will serve Hilary well in her pursuit of higher learning at Iowa State this next fall."
According to Kimberly, Hilary signed to attend Iowa State on a full gymnastics scholarship Nov. 13.
"It was a just a blessing that they recognized her talents," she said. "They came down here last fall, observed her performance and invited her to Iowa State. That's when they offered her a verbal commitment to join the team in 2014. She gets to attend college on a scholarship doing what she loves. I'm very excited!"
It's a reward and recognition that didn't come easy, Kimberly said.
"You have to be disciplined, have great time management skills and must be pretty dedicated to gymnastics," Kimberly said. "It takes a lot of good, hard work and mental and physical stamina."
For Hilary, this includes maintaining a 3.9 grade point average and practicing gymnastics five-days-a-week, 20 hours each week, her mother added.
"I really have to space my time out," Hilary said. "I don't get to do a lot of things outside of school. I try to focus on gymnastics and schoolwork. Even after practice, I sometimes have to stay up late to get my homework done or do it at school."
She admits, however, that occasionally she will participate in various school functions.
"I try to go every once in a while to a football game. I try to stay involved," Hilary said. "But, I do realize that I can't go to every one of them."
Kimberly said it's a work ethic Hilary learned early in life.
"Hilary started gymnastics when she was five. We just put her in a tumbling class because that's all she would do, tumble around," she said. "We needed to channel her energy. She became more serious at the age of eight when we were stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C., and she started competing."
Kimberly added that Hilary's interest in the sport was at least partially derived from her older sister.
"My sister got me involved in gymnastics and I've been in it for quite a while," said Hilary. "I was probably about 12 when I saw that there were many opportunities to go to college, or maybe even the Olympics."
She admits that though getting a chance to compete in the Olympics may prove difficult, the "fact that you can earn a scholarship for what you love to do is really amazing."
Dillard illustrated the gymnast's resolve when at the Junior Olympic National Invitational Tournament held in Minneapolis, Minn., May 10-11, she pressed on despite an injury she sustained during the floor exercise.
"Hilary dislocated her big toe during the first part of her routine," he said. "She still finished the floor exercise and eventually won the event.
"Had she been able to continue," Dillard said, "I have no doubt Hilary probably would have won the all-around.
"She's a more complete gymnast," he said. "She'll leave us this year and go on to Iowa State where I think she instantly will be a success, not only there but in the whole NIT gymnastics program. Her best days are yet to come."