‘Teammates for life’

Darlene “Dar” (Benedetti) McLane, ’04, left, and Tricia (Clark) Farler, ’03, became friends more than a decade ago in UWL gymnastics. Farler also was assistant coach with former Head Coach Barb Gibson for one year. Farler and McLane, as well as other members of their former UWL gymnastics team still get together at least once a year. When UWL hosts the national gymnastics meet, it becomes a reunion for all former UWL gymnastics athletes. “It’s worth it to keep friendships and keep great memories alive,” says McLane.

Former UWL gymnastic teammate reaches out to help longtime friend during Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Harvey was about to hit Texas.

On the night of Friday, Aug. 25, it began to rain and Houston area residents were making last minute runs for food and bottled water. They cleaned grocery store shelves, filled tanks with gas and heeded evacuation advice.

Tricia (Clark) Farler, ’03, who had moved to Texas only three years before, had never experienced a hurricane. She wondered what all the fuss was about. When her husband came back from the grocery store that evening with four loaves of bread and four gallons of milk, she snapped a photo and poked fun. How could they ever need that much?

Fast forward 24 hours and Farler understood. The wind came and the rain poured. It wouldn’t stop. Farler and her husband intently watched news updates with reports of frequent tornados, damaging winds and flooding.

Rescue boats around the corner from Tricia (Clark) Farler’s home.

During the first day of rain, their neighborhood — a western suburb of Houston called Fulshear — was on the move. People in two-story homes moved furniture upstairs. People in one-story homes left. Farler’s home sat on a hill, escaping the flowing water, but leaving her in doubt about whether she should take her three children and leave too.

Getting out

More evacuation orders came as the storm lingered over the Houston area for days. “We were praying for the rain to stop. But it was not letting up — not even for a minute,” says Farler.

A bridge over a typically tiny creek about a quarter mile from Tricia (Clark) Farler’s home.

Eventually their neighborhood sewer system quit working. They couldn’t flush toilets and/or use their sinks. Farler and her family knew they needed to go somewhere. She finally picked up the phone at 10 p.m. Monday, Aug. 28. “Dar” was the first person she thought to call.

Darlene “Dar” (Benedetti) McLane, ’04, was a friend Farler had met more than a decade ago in UWL gymnastics. Farler still remembers the day she met McLane. Blonde with a big smile, McLane walked into UWL’s Wittich Hall gym for the first day of practice her freshman year. She was loud and outgoing, and Farler, a junior, was not as boisterous. Farler wondered whether the two would get along.

But in gymnastics, teammates practice hours together every day. They compete together, study together, go out together and prepare for their futures together. They become family. And Farler and McLane became family too.

“She is the sweetest person ever, once you get to know her,” says Farler. “She has a very big heart.”

In 13 years, that hasn’t changed.

McLane had been texting Farler for days, urging her and her family to come and stay in Austin. And when they talked that evening at 10 p.m., McLane told her again to come.

“I told her ‘The doors are open. We are all ready for y’all!’” recalls McLane.

Farler and her three children left soon after. But roads throughout the Houston area were flooded, leaving the only way out to the west. They ended up staying at another friend’s home in Houston before traveling to Austin.

Farler’s husband stayed back to watch the home after hearing reports of potential looting, and he wanted to keep an eye on the house for potential damage and sewer backups as the flooding continued.

Darlene (Benedetti) McLane, reading, opened up her home to a former UWL gymnastics teammate and her family as Hurricane Harvey stalled over Houston, Texas in August. On the night their family arrived, she read a book to all the kids.

Farler says staying with McLane at her Austin home was piece of mind and a temporary break from the devastation going on. Farler’s children — a two-year-old and four-year-old twins — played with McLane’s children and swam in the pool. “They were trying to make life easy for us and they did,” recalls Farler.

However, after a few days, the water began to subside and Farler felt the urge to return and begin the work of rebuilding the community. The Houston area had taken a hard hit from the storm. It rained for six days on the area, dumping about 50 inches on a region that typically doesn’t get that much in a year. It killed 70 people and left a wake of destruction throughout neighborhoods, displacing more than a million people, including many of Farler’s neighbors.

A Houston area neighborhood street near Tricia (Clark) Farler’s home post flood.

A path of destruction

This is a home that Tricia (Clark) Farler helped clean in the neighboring suburb of Wharton after flooding damage.

As Farler walked her neighborhood streets in the aftermath, the curbs were lined with piles of molding, carpeting and soaked drywall — all ripped from homes and awaiting garbage pickup. The smell of neighboring flooded farm fields lingered thick in the air. People were moving furniture into storage because their homes were unlivable. The school where Farler teaches pre-school physical education was completely destroyed and closed for weeks as repairs continued at a new site.

Farler’s home, being at a higher elevation, sustained only minor damage with water coming through one window, which has already been repaired. But she is busy now helping with repairs in her neighborhood, assisting families in need and taking it one day at a time.

Tricia (Clark) Farler’s flooding neighborhood after Hurricane Harvey hit the Houston area. While neighboring homes sustained major damage, Clark’s family was lucky to live at a higher elevation in the neighborhood and only had minor damage. This photo was taken at the end of her street.

McLane calls Farler a “stand-out person” with a lot of drive. She says their relationship has continued because they went through a lot together as gymnasts — “grit, sweat, smiles and tears.” And they continue to go through those things together today.

Former Head Coach Barb Gibson says she wasn’t just trying to teach gymnastics. She was trying to foster a culture of care for one another, which is essentially her philosophy of life. McLane and Farler took it all in.

UWL won the NCAA Division III National Championship meet in 2002 when both Darlene (Benedetti) McLane and Tricia (Clark) Farler were on the team.

“In Division III sports, especially, coaches focus on more than just you as an athlete,” says Farler. “They focus on us as students, who we are as people, and what we are going to do with the rest of our lives.”

Gibson says she was blessed to work with a lot of great student athletes over the years who went on to become amazing people.

“It is wonderful that they have this sense of care for each other across their lifespan. And, in a time of need, they are reaching for each other,” says Gibson. “We are teammates for life.”


Keeping gymnastics alive

Former UWL gymnasts frequently continue to pursue the sport in one way or another, says Darlene “Dar” (Benedetti) McLane, ’04. She ran a competitive girls gymnastics program for eight years, coached for several years, and is now a judge. “It is amazing the amount of passion and love people have for the sport … even after all these years. It never leaves you, by the way. None of us give it up fully.”