Western senior gymnast Corinna Cottingham’s memory is pretty fuzzy about when she first started working with Panther coach Margie Lea. It’s understandable.
“I started [gymnastics] when I was 18 months old,” Cottingham said of her first day at Kokomotion, with Lea as the instructor. “She was my very first coach ever, and now she’s my last coach.”
Lea remembers though.
“Oh, I remember her in diapers, I remember that,” Lea said. “She was in a little mommy-and-me class. She was real tiny and she still is to this day. I put her in the classes and she grew.
“I had a class of kids that were little hotshot kids,” Lea said, noting former Western gymnasts Casey Herr, Jessie Meeks and Whitney Worl were also there. “They were all in that little group.”
Fast-forward to today and Cottingham, the last of that group, is preparing for her third and final state meet. The senior qualified for the all-around competition at Saturday’s IHSAA State Finals in Muncie. The opening ceremonies are at 12:30 p.m. with competition starting at 1.
Cottingham made the all-around competition at state as a sophomore and a junior so she’s calm heading into her final high school meet.
“It’s not a lot of pressure, at least for me,” she said. “I’m more there to have fun. The girls there are extremely good and it’s great to know I’m there with those girls, competing against them. A lot of them I’ve competed against before in club meets when we were all younger. It’s nice to see how far we’ve traveled over the years.”
The state meet is a celebration as much as anything.
“It’s so much fun,” Cottingham said. “Everybody there in gymnastics cheers everybody on, it doesn’t matter what school you go to, if you have a team or [are competing] alone. Everybody is there to cheer everybody on, and that’s the best part of it.”
Cottingham took sixth at last week’s Lafayette Jeff Regional despite a couple uncharacteristic falls. That she was able to place so highly despite falls speaks to how high a level she’s at now.
“I told her that right away. I told her if you got out of that regional, which is a very tough regional with Roncalli and New Palestine and Franklin Central, with her being able to maintain that spot with two major falls, that just shows her what she’s capable of when she gets to state.”
Cottingham’s previous bests at state are scores of 9.475 on vault in both her sophomore and junior seasons.
“I’m hoping that she’ll even do better because she is much stronger this year than she was last year,” Lea said. “I think she’ll be more comfortable with the whole atmosphere. I think she’s more focused. She looked really good in practice all week. She knows what to expect, how long the meet is, knows what she needs to do to do well.”
This year, that means leaving it all on the floor when she takes center stage.
“I have nothing else to lose now, I may as well throw everything I can now as long as it’s safe, and not pull back skills just to get a good score,” Cottingham said.
Lea believes Cottingham is better positioned than ever to do well at state.
“She is strong, no injuries,” Lea said. “She came off a broken foot first part of the season and healed well. She looks good. This is one of the first years that I think she’s so strong both mentally and physically.”
Cottingham plans to attend Purdue next season and hopes to put her gymnastics to use as a cheerleader for the Boilers. If that doesn’t work out, she wants to compete in intramural competitions.
Cottingham said that the hard part isn’t the nerves of this last big meet, rather the difficulty of getting to state.
“I’m not really concerned on how I do, I want to end my season on a fun note with a good memory,” she said. “Now, I’m stress-free and I want to end it with fun.
“Regionals was very stressful, but now that I’m here, I’ve made it. I’m going to do what I can do best and hope for the best.”
The Western senior is grateful to have had the same coach helping for so long.
“I wouldn’t be able to be who I am today without Margie,” Cottingham said. “I have a lot of weird ways that my body moves that others don’t and she’s worked with me forever to help me do the things I do.”
For Lea, this meet also marks an end. The youngest of that group of hotshots is also Lea’s last. Lea is stepping down from coaching Western after almost 20 seasons with the Panthers and 33 years overall. The end isn’t easy.
“I just loved working with her — always smiled, always happy,” Lea said of Cottingham. “I just knew she was unique. She has carried that through her whole high school career, her smile, the way she pays attention. She always paid attention from a young age, looks at you when you speak to her.
“Easier to instruct, and hard to let her go.”