Three Olds gymnasts are headed to the provincial championships in Fort McMurray this weekend (April 7-9), a first in the club’s history.
Jennifer Conway, Soulayah Petersen and Chloe Gardner all qualified to compete in the junior Olympic Level 6 category after finishing in the top 65 per cent at the southern zone championships, held March 16-19 in Calgary.
“(I’m looking forward) to competing and showing off our club,” said 14-year-old Conway, “because this is the first time that we’re actually there and representing Olds.”
Up until last year, the club did not have a permanent facility, which meant practice hours were limited, and equipment was subpar. Head coach Michelle Jaffrey attributes this season’s success to the new club facility.
“We, for years and years and years, never placed at big-city competitions,” she said. “And now we are.”
Previously, the competitive team only trained about four hours a week, because they had to set up and take down equipment for every practice. They didn’t have a spring floor, they overlapped with recreational classes, and they couldn’t practise in the summers.
But, with the opening of the new facility last June, she says the competitive team has full use of the gym now.
“Now we are a fully-functioning gymnastics club,” said Jaffray. “With that we train all summer, so it has brought their level up.”
Before, her gymnasts weren’t able to focus on conditioning and strength, because there wasn’t enough time in the gym, said Jaffrey. Now the competitive team does conditioning for about an hour a day, plus gets practice in on all four of their events, something that was impossible in the makeshift training facility.
The summer training has paid off. Two of the girls headed to Fort McMurray have moved up three levels over the past year. Petersen and Gardner, who are both 12, jumped from the junior Olympic program level 3 to level 6 in a single season.
“We’re pretty excited,” said Gardner’s mother Lisa, who agrees that the new facility has been key. “All the girls, you can see their skill levels advanced with the new floor that we got this year. It’s just taken it to a new level.”
“I was really excited,” said Petersen about grabbing a spot at provincials, “and surprised, because I went from level 3 last year to level 6 this year. And I qualified.”
Petersen said she’s expecting stiff competition, because many of her competitors have been in level 6 longer than she has. And many of the gymnasts train more than they do, added Gardner, some hitting the gym as much as 20 hours a week.
“And way more girls,” said Gardner, “so it will be harder to place. But we’ll just do our best.”
But despite being first-timers within a competitive field, their coach doesn’t think the girls will be out of their league in Fort McMurray.
“They are very excited and very unsure of the unknown,” said Jaffray, “but I’m expecting them to place right in the mix of things. Their scores all year have been fairly consistent.”
“I’m really looking forward to seeing how they do and watching their faces,” Jaffray said, “with the excitement of being at an elite competition.”
It may be a trip into the unknown for the trio, but all three feel like it’s their club that’s made all the difference, and not just the new spring floor.
“Everybody is so supportive” said Peterson “and it’s just so much fun.”
“Even the girls that didn’t make it to provincials, they were cheering like they were as happy as the girls who did make it,” said Conway.
“I felt like it was a dream come true,” said Gardner. “I always wanted to do big stuff, like the Olympic people.”
Her mom thinks she’s headed in the right direction.
“You should have seen them at zones,” said her Lisa Gardner. “It was like they won the Olympics.”
“(I’m looking forward) to competing and showing off our club because this is the first time that we’re actually there and representing Olds.”JENNIFER CONWAY