Photo by Casey Gomez

If you have been going to Georgia Tech football games for the past few years, you may have noticed that the same girl has been twirling fire and batons every half-time for a while. You no longer have to wonder who she is.

Annabel McAtee, fourth-year BME, grew up in Iowa and started baton twirling in second grade. She has been competing since then. She even attended an online high school so she could manage to train during the day.

“It was very intense,” McAtee said.

When she was twelve or thirteen years old, she first tried out fire twirling for an Iowa state fair. She would participate in local talent shows to win prizes.

While McAtee has continuously done baton twirling, she had only attempted fire twirling a few times throughout middle and high school. It was not until she arrived at Tech that she picked up fire twirling.

So, how did McAtee end up at Tech? The tale is a long one. When she was in high school, she competed in the World Championships for baton twirling and won the bronze medal.

At the nationals level, there was a woman recruiting baton twirlers for a charity festival, hosted through Lions Club International, in Peru. She was one of roughly ten performers to be selected, and during two weeks in Peru, McAtee performed at many parades.

“I met a lot of noble people and Peruvian authorities,” McAtee said. “It was pretty neat.”

It just so happened that her chaperone at this festival was the Tech coach. The coach highly encouraged her to look into Tech for baton twirling and inquired about her academic interests. McAtee visited Georgia Tech soon after the Peru trip. She was impressed by the academics at the school and excited to be able to continue twirling since it was something that she had done for so long. She felt like Tech would be the perfect fit.

Since coming here she has performed not only at football games, but also basketball games and other events. She is occasionally requested to perform fire twirling for special guests.

“Well … I don’t wanna get this wrong but I think it was the president of Bank of America … I wouldn’t quote me on that,” McAtee laughed.

However, as with many sports careers, her baton twirling has not always been smooth-sailing. Unfortunately, McAtee has encountered some physical setbacks, which temporarily stalled her baton twirling career.

“When I was sixteen, right after World Championships, I started having severe hip pain,” McAtee said. “I ended up having to have two hip surgeries to repair a torn labrum in each hip.”

McAtee’s whole recovery process took about eight months.

“Going through the recovery process, then having to relearn everything in twirling was definitely my biggest struggle in baton,” McAtee said.

McAtee is the only fire twirler performing at Tech. While she practices with the band three times a week and sometimes performs alongside GT Gold Rush, for the most part she flies solo.

But of course, as a student at Tech, baton twirling is not the only activity on her plate. So what does she do with her time?

“I do research which takes up a lot of my time … I wish I was a more interesting person,” McAtee joked.

McAtee does research in the Tissue Engineering and Mechanics Lab under Dr. Hollister. There she is testing shape and memory polymers for use in a variety of medical applications.

The Hollister Lab also does work with 3D printing biomaterials, including tracheal splints.

Studying and research take up most of her time, but she has taken up teaching baton twirling and has a lot of fun with it.

It started her freshman year at a football game when she told people she would be interested in teaching her craft.

By word of mouth amongst the baton-twirling world, the news spread and she had a few people reach out to her for lessons. She started teaching a few girls who had never touched a baton, and she has found it very rewarding.

Some of her students have come and gone, but a few core girls have stuck with her for all three years now.

McAtee never really considered going in the direction of Cirque du Soleil or doing twirling professionally.

“It’s kind of odd to think about how I’ve been doing baton my whole life and finally it’s going to almost come to an end,” she said.

Because teaching has been so rewarding for McAtee, she is definitely considering giving baton twirling lessons as a side to her career post-graduation. She wants to be able to take everything she has learned over the years and give back to others.

“There is something really, really awesome about seeing someone catch something after they’ve been working on it for a month,” said McAtee. “It’s a pretty cool thing.”