KNIGHTDALE — Brittany Coppedge’s influence on the sport she loved remains potent years after her premature passing.
A graduate of Southeast Raleigh High School who lost a short battle with lung cancer at the age of 19 in 2006, Coppedge was a Level 9 gymnast who devoted much of her life after the age of 6 to fine-tuning her balance and body control to competition levels.
To this day, Coppedge’s former coach and Knightdale Gymnastics owner Cris Fuller organizes an annual meet to honor the late gymnast’s dedication to the sport, known as the Brittany Coppedge Gymnastics Invitational.
“She was the kind of kid that would have grown up … and she would still be involved in gymnastics, whether it be coaching or judging,” Fuller said of her former student. “She just loved the sport.”
Brittany’s mother, Tammy Coppedge, recalls the intensity the teenager displayed when it came to competition. Often putting all else on hold for a meet, Coppedge harbored a toughness that drove her to success on the bars, mat and beam.
“She was one of those girls that was always in the gym,” Tammy said. “When she was Level 9, over the summer, she was there for over 30 hours a week.”
Coppedge’s Level 8 season began with a twinge of back pain that she kept under wraps. It wasn’t until after her participation in the Southeast Regional Championship that Coppedge admitted to the discomfort. Two days later, a stress fracture was pinpointed in her back.
As a Level 9 gymnast (one level away from Olympic consideration) the next season, Coppedge broke her foot the day before the State Championship. She still competed, earning five medals and another shot at the Regional Championship.
“She was a tough girl,” Tammy said.
The 8-, 9- and 10-year-olds that now compete in the memorial meet might not share Coppedge’s resilience, but they do possess a similar passion for the high-flying sport for which the teenage talent is best remembered.
The 2014 meet drew 66 gymnasts in total, as members of Chapel Hill Gymnastics, Bull City Gymnastics and The Tumble Gym descended on the seventh annual event held at Fuller’s facility on Feb. 1. In hopes to expand this venture in future years, Fuller is working with the Town of Knightdale to gain use of its recreation center with aspirations of a two-day event.
“We’re considering bidding to be an AAU qualifier meet,” Fuller said, explaining that acceptance would require all AUU gymnasts to compete in the Brittany Coppedge Invitational in order to advance to States. “If we win the bid for that, we’re almost guaranteed 200-some kids would participate.”
While many of the young kids who compete in the Coppedge Invitational do not fully understand the magnitude of this specific test of both precision and style, the parents see it as a reminder of just how lucky they are for their children’s health.
“I think it’s more import to the parents of these gymnasts who have a look at her story and look at her mom Tammy and realize, you know, that it could be them just as easily as it was for her,” Fuller said. “You see how important it is to raise awareness for something like lung cancer.”
Tammy Coppedge said the Knightdale competition is a chance for all to watch young gymnasts enjoy the sport as much as her daughter did.
“It also makes the parents aware to treasure every chance you get, because you just don’t know,” she said.
In addition to the annual Brittany Coppedge Invitational meet, the family has helped organize “Brittany’s Battle” – a charity geared toward increasing both lung cancer awareness and funding for research.