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Words from a consistent, thoughtful and highly introspective gymnast
2021-01-19

Sure, there are plenty of people with bigger problems at the moment, but for local athletes who are looking to close the book on their careers this winter, the pandemic has done them no favours.

Gearing up for that one final event, making that push for provincials or playoffs one last time all appear increasingly unlikely with every passing day for those who intend to move on following the 2020-2021 season.

While many an athlete is struggling through this most unexpected process, there are some exceptions. Gymnast Rachel Uguccioni (GymZone - Home of the Sudbury Laurels), for one, is more than comfortable, on the balance, with the resume that she has compiled, even if results in her final year are non-existent.

In part, achieving Zen for the 17 year-old grade 12 student at St Charles College can be traced back to the outlook that the middle of three children in the family enjoyed, almost from the very start of her gymnastics involvement so many years ago. Uguccioni was not one who was about to be consumed by visions of future Olympics to be.

"I've always been more focused on the type of athlete that I wanted to be," she explained recently. "I wanted to be a committed athlete, a hard-working athlete. I wanted to keep those goals in mind throughout my training, to try and keep up my conditioning, be dedicated to each and every practice - that was more of my focus."

In that sense, a competitive spectrum that included many a memorable highlight, but was likely marked far more by a steady upward progression, very much spoke to the introspective young woman who initially followed in the footsteps of her cousin (Krista), a very successful Laurels' gymnast in her own right.

"I was quite a strong kid," Uguccioni conceded. "In gymnastics, my coordination abilities, my love for being upside down were really showcased and I was able to progress very quickly in the sport. From there, I’ve always been a really consistent athlete in the sense that I haven't had too many changes to my development throughout my gymnastics career.”

"I've never had any major setbacks with injuries or even plateauing - but I've always been a slower progressor. I find that this is the pace I had given myself, largely out of an extreme awareness of my body and my capabilities and my ability to progress."

To be clear, Uguccioni had reached level eight status by the time that she was 13 years old. A regular on the podium in the vault, she would enjoy aggregate success at various times as she climbed from one rung of the ladder to the next. Hers was a highly methodical approach, to be sure.

"I've had to do a lot of reflecting, but I am a thinker in general," she said. "I've spent a lot of time planning in my head appropriate timelines to achieve skills and readiness. I think that's what has made my approach so consistent, is that I have a format and a baseline understanding of myself."

"It allowed me to progress safely and effectively so that I could compete at a consistent level."

For three straight years, Uguccioni opted to remain at level eight. There was really no rush to extend herself way beyond her comfort zone. She knew who she was and when the time was right, there would be a very natural transition. Not before.

"I may have stayed in level eight for three years, but I progressed really well throughout those three years," said Uguccioni. "By year three, I could achieve really high scores - I was a very solid competitor. That level of success in competition, the way that my confidence developed, that was a turning point year for me."

The fall of 2019 would mark that one final jump for Rachel Uguccioni. Three years of refinement at level eight had set the stage for an ascension, one which she did not initially envision.

"Last year was probably my best and worst patches," she stated. "It was probably the year I experienced the most challenges, but also the most success. I was able to get into level nine, something that I wasn't sure I could accomplish years earlier."

Heading into Tour Selection, the meet that typically kick-starts the competitive calendar for gymnastics, Uguccioni felt strong, ready. A mid-competition illness, unfortunately, would take the wind out of her sails. It was time to regroup and prepare for the first official qualifier a month or so later.

"In my final competition of 2019, my first level nine meet, that was the meet that I want to say gave me complete closure and satisfaction in my gymnastics career," she said. "Obviously, there was still the hope to continue competing at level nine the following season (2020-2021), however I think in that moment, I was definitely overwhelmed with a sense of accomplishment and pride."

The teenager who now has eyes on a career in business would set a new high water mark for herself, posting a career best overall aggregate score. While no one could have foreseen the incredible change that one and all, globally speaking, would be dealing with just three months later, Uguccioni would be content with a degree of inner peace.

"From that point on, I knew that the end was drawing near - but I definitely established a sense of satisfaction with the sport, knowing that was as far as I wanted to go," she offered. "I didn't have any future ambitions that would keep me holding on to the sport. I don't think I would ever struggle with the "what ifs"."

Teammates have come and gone. Even if she is able to return to the home setting that is the GymZone, Uguccioni would be preparing to graduate from her high-school ranks with none of those who trained at her side, in her early days, still around.

"I've taken a lot of pride in the commitment and dedication that I've showed, sticking with the sport for so long, especially with so many of my teammates moving on," she said. "I've always strived to continue to better myself through gymnastics."

Come September, Uguccioni is hoping to be back in a classroom, experiencing the university environment at either Guelph, Laurier or Laurentian. It would be unrealistic to not expect even the occasional occurrence of wistful memories, longing for the friendships that were formed through gymnastics.

Just don't expect the longing to last for long.

"I understand that I have had a very successful gymnastics career and I'm more than happy to be able to walk away from it, knowing that I accomplished everything that I wanted to accomplish."

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