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Thursday, Apr. 25, 2019
The Spirit of Sudbury Sport that is Lisa Kivinen
by Randy Pascal

With a life-long involvement in gymnastics representing just a sampling of her impressive resumé, Lisa Kivinen will join, deservingly so, the list of those inducted into the Sudbury Sports Hall of Fame later this evening.

And while the performance of others, as athletes, might have shone more brightly, there may not be a member of the Hall who better captures the "spirit of sport" in Sudbury.

Hers has been a journey of growth, that has simply never stopped. Each stage, from athlete, to coach, to administrator, to multi-sport volunteer, has built on the preceding one.

"They're different, in that they happened in different phases of my life," Kivinen noted recently. "As an athlete, I did simultaneously transition into coaching. As an athlete, I realized I did obtain a lot of knowledge, and had a lot of experiences and opportunities that I wanted to share."

Retiring from her days of elite competition at the age of just 17, Kivinen already had four years of coaching under her belt as she opened the door to volunteerism, assisting with Gymnastics Ontario while still only a teen.

Eventually, the skill-set would expand, accredited as a national level judge, sitting on the board of directors of Gymnastics Ontario. But as she looks back, reminiscing, the reality is that coaching will also hold a special place in her heart.

"For sure, coaching is where I was in my element," she said. "What I wasn't done with as an athlete, when I retired, was competing, so that's where coaching gives you that opportunity to express your passion, your desire, and your pride, and to be able to share it. The coaching was certainly a highlight."

Yet Kivinen seemed destined to move from challenge to challenge, tackling the next mountain the very moment that last one was crested. That mindset would pave the way to her current association with the GymZone facility, the home of the Sudbury Laurels since 2003. It's an organization with which Kivinen has become synonymous.

The club has come a long way since its launch in 1969. "In 1977, when I went to tryout, we were training twice a week in school gyms," stated Kivinen. "At that time, the parents, the coaches, saw that gymnastics could grow to be so much more - but it couldn't grow in a rented school gym where we had to set-up and tear down with every practice."

The search for permanency had begun. A Wintario grant allowed for the purchase of equipment, including the floor that was used as the warm-up floor from the Montreal Olympics (1976), still very much in use to this day.

"The thing is that we needed so much space, with four apparatus for women, six apparatus for me, plus there's tumbling and trampoline," said Kivinen. "As our numbers grew, we required more equipment, more space."

The Laurels moving fan never seem to sit idle too long. From their first home on Mountain Street, over to the Exhibition Centre, on to Falcon Five, to a venue on Second Avenue, into Barrydowne Arena, and eventually to the current site of E.S.C. Sacré-Coeur, where a working arrangement with the CSCNO (Conseil scolaire de district catholique du Nouvel-Ontario) really paid dividends.

"We partnered with CSCNO at the old Ecole Léon XIII," noted Kivinen. "Thanks to them, we have called it home every since." By this time, the role that Kivinen played within the Laurels family had expanded into so much more.

"It wasn't until the 1990s that our business model started to shift, where head coaching wasn't just coaching, it was managing, growing, developing, marketing, it was so many other things. That's when we adopted a U.S. model, where we actually approached it as a business, where it's staff managed," said Kivinen.

Never one to stagnate, this bundle of enthusiasm was about to stretch the parameters of her sporting influence in Sudbury, tackling more "big picture" challenges as the president of SportLink - Greater Sudbury Sport Council.

Kivinen had been groomed to step seamlessly into the spotlight. "I learned and I learned and I learned," she said. "I learned from some amazing people who were passionate, and would work tirelessly and collaboratively, and I saw the benefits of getting the best and the positive from people, and the great things that could be accomplished. That's what I learned as a volunteer."

Offering her assistance with various City-created committees, Kivinen would also sit on the Board of Governors of Laurentian University, utilizing every available platform to share her civic pride.

"I think we have something special as a community," she said. "I've always thought that. I do think that we're not done, that we have such potential as a City to be a leader. We have such a great knowledge base and a committed volunteer base, that I know we could be a mecca for sports."

"Yes, for gymnastics, but for so many other sports as well. I've seen what Sports Tourism does for a community, so much growth and potential," Kivinen continued. "I know that we could do that here."

And while her vision for Sudbury has broadened to include a more comprehensive approach to the sporting landscape, there is no denying her life-long love of gymnastics.

"Gymnastics has always been something of an underdog sport in this community, but deep down, I know how incredible and beneficial gymnastics could be for every individual child." Such is the "spirit of sport" that continues to shine bright within Lisa Kivinen, even as she enters the Hall of Fame.

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