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Friday, May. 24, 2019
Provincial award a sum of the parts for Sudbury GymZone
by Randy Pascal

There are, quite literally, hundreds of folks associated with the GymZone (Home of the Sudbury Laurels) that can legitimately lay claim to feeling like they were part and parcel, at least in some small way, of the recent Ed Bougham “Club of the Year” award that was bestowed recently, upon the local group, from the sport governing body, Gymnastics Ontario.

Still, it would be fair to say that the quartet of Lisa Kivinen, Jack Miller, Terra Davidson and Alex Larocque have been front and centre, at the very top of the heap, in terms of feeling that little bit of extra pride that comes from knowing that their personalities, their characters, their vision and beliefs, shine through every fibre of the provincial justification for this award.

Theirs is a story that was first being written as Kivinen vaulted (pardon the very intentional pun) from the captivating performances of Nadia Comaneci at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, pursuing a competitive career in gymnastics that would come full circle as she followed her university graduation with an ever-increasing involvement with both the coaching and administrative arms of the local club.

“Gymnastics grew in popularity following the ’76 Olympics, and then the attention to superstars like Mary Lou Retton and Kim Zmeskal, and people were realizing that it’s a big task to train all of the staff, and set up the registration and everything that goes with it,” noted Kivinen. “The USA was launching the private/public model for gymnastics programs, and friends of mine were some of the first to duplicate it in Canada, and they helped me set that up in Sudbury.”

The years were 1998-1999, and those involved with the GymZone was about to “up their game”, to coin a sporting vernacular. Before long, Kivinen would partner with Jack Miller, equally as passionate about gymnastics, but with a background that varied greatly to the competitive stream with which she was more well acquainted.

Together, they began the task of growing the club.

“When we dive in, that’s it – we’re fully in,” said Kivinen. “Jack and I are very similar in that respect. We were moving forward, things needed to get done. There are probably a few things that we were not in the moment enough to celebrate. We just saw the vision, and we needed to make sure that this will continue, in perpetuity, without us.”

Gymnastics might well be viewed as more of an individual sport that a team endeavour, but if the business of gymnastics was to flourish in Sudbury, it would require a collaborative skill-set that is both varied, yet joined by some common bonds. “The biggest thing I bring is both the years of involvement, but also from a more recreational perspective,” suggested Miller.

“You have to make it fun. You can have fun doing anything. You can have fun at a high-end competitive level.” Over time, the trademarks of their approach were becoming evident in every scope of the operation. “I think it’s the passion that we have to do what’s right for each child, and not just paying lip service to that,” said Miller.

For as much as Kivinen and Miller combined to create a foundation of success, they also understood, quite quickly, the need for effective succession planning. “The staff that we have built, that have stayed, that want to stay, is a great source of pride,” noted Miller. “And it’s the same with the kids. They’re still having fun.”

In many ways, Terra Davidson and Alex Larocque represent the next wave of the GymZone evolution. This entire crew might point to the Bougham award as proof positive of just how natural the passing of the baton has occurred at the GymZone. “Look at this group,” beamed Kivinen.

“They work smarter, with very much more of a team approach. Watching this group take it to the next level, they are so much better at it.” It’s not praise that Davidson takes lightly, the native of Petawawa having recently surpassed a decade of coaching and management involvement with her Northern Ontario gymnastics family.

It has been all she could of dreamed for, and more, thinking back to a time when she and her husband were contemplating a place to call home, to pursue their respective ambitions. “We looked at different places that we wanted to go, that would be good for him, as well as for me,” she said.

“I had spent a lot of time in grass roots gymnastics, and I really wanted to take my gymnastics (coaching) to the next level. I had read an article on Lisa, and she was talking about growing the four different disciplines, and it just got me thinking about how exciting it would be to work in a facility that is growing. I could grow with them.”

Like every other piece of this puzzle, Davidson would bring along her own unique attributes. “I think I am good with people,” she said. “I have a good rapport with parents and staff. Mentoring other staff has always been a passion of mine. Developing a team culture has been a big conversation for us, it’s something we’ve been working really hard at.”

It’s also where the youthful influx of energy that is Alex Larocque intersects with Davidson. “My background is in corporate health and wellness, working with a Toronto company that focused on a holistic approach to mental and physical wellness,” noted the graduate of the School of Sports Administration at Laurentian University.

“But we also had a really great team culture there,” Larocque contined. “That experience, and bringing that really progressive approach to team management, that’s what I was excited about doing.” Little by little, the fresh blood built on a core of values, tweaking without abandoning the values they all hold dear.

“We needed to really define what those values were and what our vision was,” said Larocque. “We also tried to identify those people that were really successful here, and what kinds of traits were prominent in them, how they worked, why people were receptive to them.” They would do it while the mentors watched and guided, careful not to overstep the roles into which they had morphed.

“No one grows if you don’t make mistakes,” exclaimed Miller. “As a company, you kind of hope that there are lots of little mistakes that are made so that you are constantly growing. We’ve had some really nice growth, a few years of hitting some numbers that are really nice to see.”

“I still have the passion, but now my passion is not so much the students in the gym, but the students out here, in the boardroom,” summarized Kivinen. It’s a passion that is not only universally shared across this quartet, but one, which now, has been recognized on a provincial scale.

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