Toughest girls in town

Paige Mueller photos                                Coach Raeanna Brown (left), Ella McDonald, Emily Swan, Marajade Goertz, Mackenzi Johnson, Shaelynn Dyck, Laura Strang, Kalli Campbell, Alysia Irawan, Isabelle McMath and coach Michaela Newberry.Paige Mueller photos Coach Raeanna Brown (left), Ella McDonald, Emily Swan, Marajade Goertz, Mackenzi Johnson, Shaelynn Dyck, Laura Strang, Kalli Campbell, Alysia Irawan, Isabelle McMath and coach Michaela Newberry.
Mackenzi Johnson is supervised by coach Raeanne Brown as she swings her way up and around the bars on Monday night.Mackenzi Johnson is supervised by coach Raeanne Brown as she swings her way up and around the bars on Monday night.
Ten-year-old Ella McDonald launches into a handstand while practicing on the beam.Ten-year-old Ella McDonald launches into a handstand while practicing on the beam.
Gymnast Shaelynn Dyck works on her bar routine at the gym on Monday night.Gymnast Shaelynn Dyck works on her bar routine at the gym on Monday night.
Coach Michaela Newberry helps Kalli Campbell work on some moves on the beam.Coach Michaela Newberry helps Kalli Campbell work on some moves on the beam.
Emily Swan launches backwards on the beam with the help of coach Michaela Newberry.Emily Swan launches backwards on the beam with the help of coach Michaela Newberry.
Ella McDonald rests for a second before swinging over the bar at Monday night’s training session.Ella McDonald rests for a second before swinging over the bar at Monday night’s training session.

The young gymnasts of the Cariboo-Chilcotin Junior Olympic Program are no doubt some of the toughest girls in town.

As nine of the 18 gymnasts in the competitive program ran, vaulted and launched themselves across the gym at training on Monday night, the girls joked about whether one of the gymnast’s blood was still ingrained into the bars. Upon inspection, they declared it was.

There’s no doubt that competitive gymnastics is a difficult and demanding sport but according to some of the girls, that’s exactly why they like it.

“I started gymnastics when I was around one and I like that it gives me a challenge because as it moves up levels you have to achieve skills and I like the competitions,” said Shaelynn Dyck, age 12.

The girls in attendance Monday night are in levels two, three and four of the competitive program meaning they practice for four hours, three times a week. That is twelve hours of gym time and training for the girls aged 10 to 13, who train in beam, bars, vault and floor routines.

The younger girls in the JOP, some of them only five-years-old train for eight hours a week in the same categories.

Office manager Trudy Rick noted that if parents want their children to learn, “that’s how many hours on minimum they need to do it and the coaches are finding it’s just phenomenal what they are doing with more hours.”

Competitive coach Raeanna Brown backed that statement up, noting after six years of coaching it’s still one of the most fulfilling jobs she’s ever had.

“Getting to see these kids do their skills with big smiles on their faces, it’s nice to see them move on in life, see them succeed in everything they do.”

In order to snag a spot in the competitive program the gymnasts do a tryout in June. Before they’re asked to commit themselves to the intensive training schedule there is a week-long camp in August to give them an idea of what competitive gymnastics is all about. By September, they decide whether they want to join the program or not.

Rick adds for some gymnasts that means giving up other sports. She tells the story of one young athlete who was already a part of a swim club when she began the program. Since so much time in the water softens the skin, which needs to be tough and callused to swing around the bars and launch off the vault, the athlete had to decide. Rick said she chose gymnastics.

But swimming may be an exception to the rule when it comes to competing in other sports alongside gymnastics. In almost every other case, being a gymnast is incredibly helpful in other sports.

According to a study conducted for USA Gymnastics by the Department of Exercise and Sport Science at the University of Utah, gymnasts are among the most flexible athletes, have the best balance, learn to fall without injuring themselves, and are pound for pound the strongest athletes out there.

All of these are huge benefits to other sports.

As coach Annie Glanville noted, the girls like gymnastics because “it keeps you active, it keep you flexible and in shape and it helps you in other sports.” She also noted as a parent of a gymnast, she loves that it allows the little ones a chance to burn off all their energy.

And energy you must have in abundance if you want to be a competitive gymnast. On top of the eight or twelve hour a week training schedule, the Cariboo-Chilcotin JOP gymnasts also attend five meets a year. The first will be in Prince George in January and meets in Quesnel, Abbotsford, again to Prince George, and Kelowna take place from February to June.

And travelling to these events isn’t cheap. On top of needing matching tracksuits which cost around $120, the gymnasts need competition suits which usually cost around $100. So how do these incredibly driven and hard working girls pull it all off? With fundraisers throughout the season to help offset clothing and travel costs. Two weeks ago, six dedicated girls were able to raise $1,205 with a bottle drive.

They’re hoping to build on that success with a Dairy Queen fundraiser on Nov. 16.

According to Rick, parents and gymnasts will be on site from 4 to 8 p.m. encouraging people to make purchases at the local Dairy Queen. A portion from every sale will go towards the competitive team and their various costs.

Despite all the hard work it takes, every gymnast in the room on Monday night had huge smiles on their faces and a bounce in their step. When questioned about why they liked gymnastics, they gushed forward with answers like “you get to show off your personality,” “I’m good at it and it’s really fun,” and “you can meet great people in gymnastics.”

There’s no doubt these dedicated athletes are going far in life with the skills and lessons they learn in that gym.

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