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A very impactful short-term gymnastics stint in Sudbury

In the grand scheme of things, it was but three years of his competitive gymnastics career that Mark Lysyshyn would spend in Sudbury.

It just seems like so much longer than that.

True, with his mother and step-father remaining in this area long after the call of post-secondary education would take him to McMaster (Hamilton) and Queen’s (Kingston), eventually settling down in Vancouver for his career, Lysyshyn has hardly remained a stranger to the nickel city.

But the fact that he would make a point of timing his 2019 visit to Sudbury to coincide with the 50th anniversary celebrations of the GymZone - Sudbury Laurels speaks volumes about just how influential his time at the facility that was then located in the Falcon Five Plaza really was.

“It was brief, but different,” noted the 48 year old Medical Health Officer with Vancouver Coastal Health.

Different - special - impactful - all rolled into one.

Growing up mostly in Ottawa, Lysyshyn had tried different sports - “swimming, tennis, things like that” - before gravitating to gymnastics at the age of nine. “None of the other sports captured my imagination like gymnastics did. I was very drawn to it. It has physical elements to it, artistic elements to it, creative elements to it.”

“It’s scary and exciting - and a challenge.”

And when Lysyshyn and his family relocated to Sudbury prior to his grade 11 year, it was also quite rare - at least when one is speaking of competitive boys gymnastics.

“There was a little bit of boys recreational gymnastics, but no boys competitive gymnastics,” recalled the man who would go on to claim a provincial title during his time with the Laurels. “I ended up with an arrangement where I was the only competitive boy in their program. I trained on my own, partly, and Lisa (Kivinen) agreed to be my coach, even though she didn’t have any experience with boys gymnastics.”

It was this exact dynamic that continues to resonate with Lysyshyn, all these years later. In Ottawa, he would leave behind an environment that included male teammates at the club level, and even a handful of crosstown competitors. Though only slightly more than five hours away by car, Sudbury would offer a whole other world, when it came to his sport.

“It was a bit of a frustrating experience, at the time, because I was unable to train with a club that offered a boys team,” Lysyshyn suggested. “But in retrospective, it was a really interesting experience, because I had to do so much of it myself. I had to decide if I liked doing this enough to keep doing this.”

Ironically, even as he first ventured down this path in the nation’s capital, Lysyshyn would come to realize that there might well be a limit to where his dreams could realistically lie. “I don’t have the perfect gymnastics physique,” he explained. “I’m actually quite tall (5’11”) and long, for a gymnast.”

“I had some success doing gymnastics, and I definitely loved it, but I was never going to be an Olympic gymnast, I don’t think. I just don’t have the right body type.”

Still, to a degree, Lysyshyn would be rewarded for the work that he committed to his craft. “At the point that I moved to Sudbury, I would say that I was a good provincial level gymnast,” he granted. “I think I understood some of the style elements of gymnastics better than most. I had very good form and presentation.”

“Because of my length, I looked very good when I did gymnastics - but it made it harder to do the more difficult skills, just because there is more of me to throw around. I was never very flexible - always strong and powerful, but I was never the perfect package.”

Nor, as he noted, was the setting perfectly ideal.

“I was also working out in a gym that really wasn’t built for me,” said Lysyshyn. “It was built for small little girls about half my size. I was vaulting one time and my feet hit the lights in the ceiling and the fluorescent lights came down, smashing all over the place.”

Completing his high school years in Sudbury, Lysyshyn would tap into all of the knowledge that Kivinen could share, all while working in visits to North Bay (the club there had a few competitive male gymnasts), and also keeping contact with his long-time coach in Ottawa.

It was enough to prolong his career, joining McMaster University for a couple of seasons, at a time when the CIAU still boasted varsity gymnastics. But as studies intensified and the pool of male gymnasts diminished, it was time to step away.

Truth be told, Olympic appearances are not in the cards for the overwhelming majority of those who venture into competitive gymnastics. Yet the very foundation of physical literacy that is developed in these young men and women reverberates for decades to come, with Lysyshyn likely even more cognizant than most of the lifelong benefits of his sport.

“In my work, we share the message: we need to move throughout our life, we have to know how to move, how to train, how to get injured and how to rehabilitate,” he said.

While the cross-connections with gymnastics may not have been evident to Lysyshyn as he was deep into the early stages of his medical school training, it was abundantly clear to him by the time he had veered over to the world of public health. “I think my history as an athlete and as someone who has always moved a lot informed me and allowed me to understand it in ways that not all of my colleagues might have,” he said.

All of which lays the base for the cautionary tone that he shares, even with messages that were pertinent prior to the pandemic. “Obviously, we have to be devoted to children, getting them active, but it’s also about equipping them with the tools to remain active for life,” noted Lysyshyn.

“As a society, we haven’t done a very good job of that. We’re now fairly active to the point where we produce kids, and then we watch them be active. We sort of live through the physical activities of our kids.”

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