Courtesy of Jennifer Iannone of the Athens Banner-Herald
OMAHA, Neb. — Katie Heenan sat in the stands of Rosenblatt Stadium, cheering for her fiancé Stephen Dodson, who was pitching in Georgia’s win over Stanford at the College World Series on Monday.
Suddenly, the cameras emerged.
Heenan, who just helped the Georgia gymnastics team to its fourth straight national title in April in her final season, was surprised when ESPN cameras discovered her in the crowd.
“The camera guy came and sat literally right next to me,” Heenan said. “There was a camera on my face. He was like, 'They’re showing your highlights.’”
She is used to the attention, as one of the top collegiate gymnasts in the country and a former six-time U.S. National team member. But when Heenan is outside the gym watching Dodson play, that’s when she doesn’t expect the publicity.
“It’s about him. It’s not about me,” she said. “I never want to take the spotlight off of him, which I don’t think I am. But it’s different. Stephen thinks it’s great. I told him I feel bad. He said, 'Don’t feel bad. I love it.’ “
Dodson and Heenan got engaged just a few days after Heenan won her fourth national title. Now, Dodson and the seventh-ranked Bulldogs are within reach of their own national championship. Georgia plays Stanford today at 2 p.m. in its third game of the College World Series. If the Bulldogs win, they will reach the best-of-three national championship series Monday.
“Our team is definitely working hard to win a national championship,” Dodson said. “The gymnastics team all worked hard to get there. If they didn’t work hard, they wouldn’t have been able to do it. I’d like to win one. I’d like to get one ring.”
“November 22,” Heenan joked, reciting the date the two will exchange rings at their wedding in Athens.
“I want a big one,” Dodson said with a smirk on his face, referring to a national championship ring.
Heenan swears she doesn’t give Dodson a difficult time about all of her hardware. It’s Dodson’s family that does.
“His brother said that we can put one of my rings on a necklace for him,” she said. “He laughs about that.”
With the busy schedules of being athletes, Dodson and Heenan can’t always see each other compete. Dodson missed Heenan win her fourth national title and Heenan missed some of Dodson’s wins this year.
Once Heenan completed her gymnastics career, she was able to devote more time to her fiancé.
“I was glad she could make it to Omaha and watch the biggest series of the year,” Dodson said. “I love her being here. It kind of takes your mind off things. Just to have her here is relaxing. It’s great.”
Because Heenan and Dodson are highly competitive athletes, they feel they are able to understand each other a little better. Heenan is even included in Dodson’s game-day ritual. The junior pitcher has to wear his John Smoltz jersey and play Nintendo 64’s Wrestlemania before pitching. Heenan then helps prepare Dodson with some words of encouragement.
“She always gives me a little pump up speech before to give me confidence,” he said.
Dodson was Georgia’s No. 2 starting pitcher before being moved to the bullpen before the Super Regionals a few weeks ago. Heenan was there to help him deal with the disappointment.
“The best part of our relationship is that we really are best friends,” she said. “With both of our careers, we’ve been big supporters. We talk about everything and really help one another put things in perspective. Him moving (to the bullpen) has actually turned into a positive thing. You can either look at the bad and then make it worse, or you can look at it in a positive way.”
Heenan will have to stay positive when Dodson, who was drafted by the Colorado Rockies in the 10th round of the MLB First-Year Player’s Draft two weeks ago, will likely travel to Wyoming this summer for minor-league training camp.
“It’s gonna be very hard,” she said. “We’ve been spoiled. Ever since we met, he lived on the floor above me. And then the past year he was basically my neighbor. We lived in the same apartment complex. We see each other every day and talk to each other every day. It’s gonna be an adjustment.”
Dodson has a semester left of school and will try to get everything in order with his studies before he departs for a professional baseball career. Heenan will stay behind in Athens to finish her education degree.
“We have a good friend base in Athens,” she said. “That might be a nice place to have a home when he’s traveling around.”
For now, Dodson is focused on winning a national championship to cap off his career at Georgia.
“I was telling somebody before we left for Omaha that we’re going for five,” Heenan said. “We’re going for five national championships within our family. It’s really a cool thought. Even if they don’t win, we’ve both been so successful at the University of Georgia.”