OU women's gymnastics: Sooners competing for more than just themselves at NCAA Championships
FORT WORTH, Texas — No tears, the team was told before they entered the hospital room.
That mandate was impossible to uphold, though.
How could the gymnasts — many of whom referred to the man lying before them as their “Norman dad” — not shed tears at what was almost sure to be their last moments spent with Dave Richardson?
It’s been two months since Oklahoma’s gymnasts shuffled into that hospital room and cried. And laughed. And listened.
Saturday will be two months since he died, taking away the husband of the Sooners’ long-time trainer Jenn Richardson and the father of their young daughter Joie, who was just 1 when Dave was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2016.
Saturday will also be the day Oklahoma looks to take care of a part of the promise they made to Richardson in his final hours, as they are expected to compete in the second day of the NCAA Championships at Fort Worth Convention Center. The event starts Friday with the top-ranked Sooners performing in the evening session to try to earn a spot in Saturday’s finals.
Last season, Richardson was on the floor at nationals when UCLA edged out the Sooners for the championship.
“He gave us a little speech,” senior Brenna Dowell said of that late February trip to the hospital. “‘Girls, go out there and do this. I expect you to win. You guys are good enough to do this. I’ve seen what you’ve been doing.’”
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The atmosphere was far from completely somber, though.
Dave wouldn’t let it be all sadness.
“They laughed because he cracked jokes,” Jenn said. “He was his normal self. His personality was definitely still here so that was good. I think that was good for them to see, and just to see that we were OK.”
Jenn is still trying to figure out what OK looks like for her, but she’s getting there with plenty of help from the Sooners’ gymnastics program.
Head coach K.J. Kindler was the second person she called — after her mom — when her husband was diagnosed.
When Dave came home from the hospital, K.J. spent night after night with the Richardsons to help Jenn give her husband his medications.
Assistants Tom Haley and Lou Ball were constant sources of strength as well, with regular visits to the hospital. The Haleys kept Joie when Dave went to the hospital for the first time, then took her to her gymnastics practice the next day.
“The amazing support that we have is still occasionally overwhelming,” Jenn said.
While gymnastics was a big part of Dave’s life, he inspired well beyond that.
He was a detective with the Warr Acres Police Department, drawing praise for his police work and the way he cared for co-workers.
He served as an assistant coach for the Norman North football team for four seasons, and in his final days entertained a string of visitors from the Timberwolves, asking his former players how their grades were holding up and if colleges were recruiting them.
“Do it for Dave,” the bracelets read.
Before meets, the Sooners put temporary tattoos on the back of their necks — dark blue ribbons for colon cancer.
They’re reminders that what Oklahoma is aiming to accomplish is about more than them.
“He put 150 percent into everything,” Jenn said. “Just fought as hard as he could, and loved as hard as he could, and would have done anything for anybody in this room, in this gym.
“He’s missed beyond belief by a lot of people.”