Georgia gymnast Katie Finnegan aims for prestigious AAI Award

Friday, at Stegman Coliseum, five UGA senior gymnasts will perform for the last time. One of those five is being considered for an award that's known as the "Heisman" of college gymnastics.

The AAI award goes to the most outstanding female gymnast in the country. This year, there are 50 nominees, but the sole gymnast on that list representing Georgia is the Bulldog's own Katie Finnegan.

They say childhood happens once but stays top of mind for the rest of our lives. For a life-long athlete, that inner child jumps for joy when we make their far-off dreams a reality.

"[When young] you're used to competing in front of 10 people," Finnegan said. "Now it's like 10,000 people. That's something that blows my mind. That atmosphere brings out the little 7-year-old in me."

For the past several years, the UGA senior has hyper focused on accuracy, precision and teamwork.

"Eighteen different girls can come together and have one goal in mind and accomplish it," she said.

Collaboration isn't the first skill that comes to mind for gymnastics, a sport that is arguably more personal than physical.

"A lot of people say gymnastics is 90% mental and 10% physical," Finnegan said.

But a close look at UGA's gymnastics practice reveals Finnegan with a word of encouragement and a seemingly supportive secret handshake.

Coaches say Finnegan's fixation on the team's success is what makes her a leader and the ideal candidate for the A-A-I award.

"One of my teammates sent me the post and was like 'you were nominated!' And I was like 'Me?'" she said.

NCAA head coaches are asked to submit a nomination. After the initial submissions, the field is narrowed to the top 6 athletes.

With a career-high 9.950 and five scores of 9.900 or better, Finnegan was Georgia’s top scorer on bars six times and once on vault.

"It's just been such a big part of my life.

She's served as captain with a GPA over 3.0, studying psychology and deaf studies.

"It's just been such a big part of my life. It's almost toward the end, so I know it's bittersweet," she said.

It’s not lost on her that she's got one more chance to compete in front of thousands at Stegman Coliseum.

"Even after I'm done warming up, I'll just look around and see so many people there supporting us that brings that little girl out in front of me," she said.

It's a moment her future self won't easily forget.

The last time a gymnast from UGA won the AAI was in 2009. Should Finnegan win, she'd be the fourth "Gymdog" to take the honor. The winner will be announced in April, the week of nationals. 

Finnegan hopes to keep gymnastics in her life even after college. She says she's focused her studies on the psychology behind sports, with the hopes of staying close to the sport in some capacity as a career.