Gymnasts support each other while leading Owls

Temple gymnastics fifth-year seniors Tori Edwards and Faith Leary helped the Owls secure back-to-back championships.

Faith Leary, a graduate student all-around gymnast, competes on the floor at the Keystone Classic at McGonigle Hall on Jan. 7. | NICK DAVIS / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Fifth year senior all-around competitors Faith Leary and Tori Edwards have two different personalities, but that hasn’t stopped them from leading the Owls to success together.

“[Edwards] is a verbal leader,” said women’s gymnastics head coach Josh Nilson. “If something’s wrong, she can circle the team up without any input from me and straighten it up. [Leary], on the other hand, kind of keeps her head down, supports her teammates, just leads by example. She never complained, she just did her job.”

During their time at Temple University, Leary and Edwards helped lead the team to back-to-back conference championships in 2019 and 2020. The two relied on each other along the way for support and their bond helped cultivate a winning environment.

Coming into this season, the two put pressure on themselves to beat their scores from last season and finish their last year of gymnastics strong. But they knew as they got older, their bodies couldn’t handle the same gymnastics routines they did freshman year.

“Once I kind of realized that I am older and my gymnastics isn’t gonna be the same, I tried to switch my mindset,” Leary said. “I just wanted to live in the moment and absorb everything that was going on at that time.” 

Although they weren’t competing in every event, the two wanted to help their teammates earn record-breaking scores. Whether it was helping the younger girls with routines or building up their confidence, Edwards and Leary made it known they were there for them, Edwards said.  

Leary earned her career high beam score of 9.675 during the Owls’ 2020 conference-winning season and helped the team earn the sixth-highest overall score in program history of 195.000 at the Ken Anderson Invitational on Jan. 31, 2020.

Edwards’ also achieved a career high of 9.875 on bars and 9.825 on vault during the 2020 season. In 2021, she earned a spot in the Second Team All-EAGL for floor events, and posted a floor score of 9.8 or better nine times. 

As a captain the last two seasons, she hoped to inspire confidence in her teammates.

“[Edwards], she’s got ice in her veins,” Nilson said. “She has been probably one of the most consistent gymnasts I’ve coached. If I was gonna go to war, I’d want [Edwards] on my team.”

Leary believes last season was her most accomplished year. After her leg gave out on the vault at the start of the 2020 season, she had bursitis in her knee and a torn meniscus. Leary was unsure if she could still perform at the high level. She returned in the 2021 season averaging 9.850 on the floor and scored a career high 9.9 in the floor event at the 2021 NCAA Regionals. 

Nilson believes Leary’s development is her most noticeable achievement. Since she joined the Owls her junior year after transferring from Utah State, Nilson has seen the fifth year consistently improve her numbers on the floor, he said.

Because Leary didn’t like public speaking, Edwards would speak to the team most of the time and relay any feedback Leary had to the team, Leary said.

“She’s definitely taught me that I have to stand up for myself,” Leary said. “I usually struggle with that and she’s helped me through it. With [Edwards], you feel the expectation from her, and so it makes you want to do better.”

Edwards praised Leary for always having a smile on her face and teaching her to look at the positives. She admires how Leary never brings others down, Edwards said.

As they wrapped up their final season, both athletes learned to cherish the time they had with the team while they still could.

After graduating, Leary, a psychology major, will coach a club team in Charleston, South Carolina. Her goal is to become a college gymnastics coach, but she wants to make an impact at the club level first, she said.

Edwards, a health professions major, will be moving back home to Virginia before applying to graduate school next year. She plans to obtain her master’s in forensic psychology and work for a federal government agency.

After leaving Temple, the two will miss their teammates and coaches, but they feel it’s time to move on from physically competing in gymnastics. Edwards may return to competing in a couple years, if her body’s up for it, but Leary is ready to live a more relaxed life.

“To both of them, I just want to say thank you more than anything else,” Nilson said. “To [Leary], for giving me a second chance, honestly, after recruiting her to a different university. That’s enormous. To [Edwards], for always having my back and being a great team captain. I’m not looking forward to replacing either one of them.”

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