Their friendship spanned nearly four decades, both trailblazers in their sport. In 1983, Dianne Durham was the first African American artistic gymnast to win a U.S. all-round championship. Around the same time, Wendy Hilliard was similarly blazing a trail in rhythmic gymnastics. Both became coaches and made ongoing impact on the sport they loved. Sadly, Durham died in 2021. 

Last weekend, Hilliard, founder and CEO of the Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation, received the Dianne Durham Humanitarian Award in Fort Worth, Texas, site of the 2023 NCAA Collegiate Women’s Gymnastics Championships. The award was created by Paul Ziert, Alice Durham-Woods (Durham’s sister), and Tom Drahozal (Durham’s husband) to remember Durham’s contribution to gymnastics. 

The presentation occurred at an American Gymnastics Alumni Association (AGAA) reception, which included multiple generations of gymnasts, including women of color for whom Durham and Hilliard were inspirations. The AGAA was formed to bring athletes together.

“It was so lovely to see everybody for a celebration,” said Hilliard, whose foundation is based in New York and Detroit. It provides low-cost or free gymnastics to urban youth, serving more than 25,000 young gymnasts since its inception 26 years ago. 

“The award is really special because Dianne—I really loved her a lot,” said Hilliard. “We performed together [in shows and tours] for so many years, and she was such a rock star athlete and outstanding person. She always had something to say and she was always so positive, so it’s really nice to celebrate her this way. It keeps her name and her legacy alive.” 

The criteria for the annual award focuses on a female gymnast past or present who has demonstrated a love of the sport and a positive attitude, and is a role model. Hilliard said celebrating Durham’s legacy against the backdrop of the collegiate championships was a great fit, particularly with the diversity of today’s gymnasts. 

“Everybody who saw Dianne compete knew how great she was,” said Hilliard. “The new athletes will always have this guiding star to see where it started…It feels great for us to keep recognizing her because history is important.” 

Among the athletes directly affected by Durham is Corrinne Tarver, the gymnastics coach at Fisk University, the first HBCU to have a gymnastics team. An alumna of Hilliard’s foundation will join the team at Fisk this fall. 

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