, ,

Life’s a balancing act for COE student and former Gator All-America gymnast

Life's a balancing act banner

Just as she maintained perfect equipoise on the balance beam during a stellar career as a Florida Gator gymnast, UF elementary education master’s student Mackenzie Caquatto has remained centered as an athlete, big sister, teaching intern and role model.

“Growing up, my parents always made sure that school came first,“ said Caquatto, a five-time collegiate All-American. “But being a college athlete has also taught me good time-management skills. I’ve done a lot of homework on airplanes, and I’ve had a lot of late-night study sessions — but I always get my work done.”

Last semester was particularly challenging for the aspiring special education teacher who helped lead the 2014 Gator gymnasts to their second straight national championship. While “Macko,” as her teammates called her, spent most of the fall semester teaching a fifth-grade class at Alachua Elementary School near Gainesville, she also attended four ProTeach classes and served as a student coach on the gymnastics team.

Caquatto was a volunteer tutor last year at a summer camp for children with reading disabilities.

Mackenzie Caquatto was a volunteer tutor last year at a summer camp for children with reading disabilities.

She also was a volunteer tutor for children with reading disabilities at a four-week summer camp last year, further demonstrating her resolve.

“I’ve wanted to be a teacher since I was 5 years old, so I’ve been willing to do whatever it takes to get there,” Caquatto said. “But it doesn’t really feel like I’m sacrificing anything because I love what I do.”

The 5-foot-1 superstar from Naperville, Ill., expects to graduate with her M.Ed. degree in December and is thinking about ways to balance her considerable athletic talent with a teaching career.

“Being a student coach has led me to think about coaching at the college level,” she said. “But I also think about coaching younger athletes. I love working with kids of all ages, whether it’s 6-year-olds or 20-year-olds.”

Caquatto said she recently experienced the vicarious thrills that come with coaching when she witnessed her younger sister, Bridgette, a junior All-American gymnast for the Gators, score a 9.95 to share the uneven bars title during a season opening win against Ball State. Bridgette also won the floor exercise title for the first time in her career with a 9.925.

“We’ve been supportive of each other all our lives, and sometimes it’s tough to watch each other compete,” Mackenzie said. “Sometimes we just have to look the other way or hide behind someone, but I managed to watch ‘Bridgey’ nail two of her routines against Ball State. I couldn’t have been any happier for her.”

Call it balanced reciprocity, but the bar on the uneven bars already had been set for Bridgette, who witnessed Mackenzie score a perfect 10 in that event last season – something only six others Gators have done.

Mackenzie said her sister was in tears after seeing the scoreboard.

“I’m sure I’ll do the same thing when she gets a 10,” big sister said.

The mutual support spills over into academics.

“I was always better at English and social studies, and Bridgey excelled in math and science,” Mackenzie said. “She’s always been very disciplined when it comes to studying and academics, so she makes a great study buddy during midterms and finals.”

Mackenzie also says that being in the ProTeach program has prepared her for the “real life” experiences she expects to encounter in her teaching career.

“I remember the first time I presented lessons in front of 20 children,” she said. “It was nerve-wracking, but not because it was difficult or I was scared of the kids. I just wondered if they’d understand.

“The whole point of a lesson is for all the students to understand the concept you’re presenting, and you have to keep in mind the way each student learns and have a back-up plan if they don’t understand. It feels like winning a competition when it works, but if it doesn’t, well then it’s kind of like going back to practice and fixing whatever went wrong and making it better.

“But now that I’ve got more experience creating lesson plans and using different teaching methods, I feel ready to handle my own classroom,” Caquatto said with typical confidence. “I feel like I’m better prepared for becoming a winner in the classroom.”

Chances are she’ll score a perfect 10 there, too.

Writer: Stephen Kindland, College of Education Office of News and Communications;; phone 352-273-3449.