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Over the course of the pandemic, Desirée Malmiste circled back to the site of her initial love of gymnastics.

There wasn’t much of a choice, really. With the Sudbury GymZone facility closed for long stretches of time, the only real option was to bring it all back home, where it all started for the nine year old Level 6 gymnast.

“When I was three years old, I started doing flips and cartwheels in the house,” noted the gregarious youngster, who is as talkative as she is energetic. “I told my mom that I wanted to do gymnastics and she thought that it was a good idea.”

Progressing quickly and skipping a couple of brackets, Malmiste found herself fast-tracked as the unknown that was Covid-19 loomed in the distance. “I trained so hard, so they moved me up to provincials,” said Malmiste. “It was so exciting, getting to go with the older girls. I thought that it was really cool, that I could train with them and learn so many new skills.”

Truth be told, it wasn’t easy to keep the faith as the roller-coaster ride that has been health related restrictions monopolized much of the past two years. “When we were doing the Zoom workouts, it felt a little like being back in the gym, just because all of my teammates were on Zoom,” explained the grade four student at Ecole publique Foyer-Jeunesse.

“At some parts, I was getting frustrated because I couldn’t do my flips and stuff. When I got back in the gym, it felt so good.”

Recently, Malmiste and her Sudbury Laurels’ teammates attended the first qualifier of the Gymnastics Ontario season, with another one planned this coming weekend in Whitby, all leading into provincials in May in Ottawa. A sixth overall aggregate placement in her bracket is a testament to her versatility, though there are clearly certain apparatus that require more attention than others.

“There’s a lot of hard skills on the beam and they’re harder to stick,” said Malmiste. “On the floor, it’s much easier for me because I have really good tumbles. I have springs in my feet.”

Because of her rapid ascension and the fact that competitions were effectively on hiatus since the spring of 2020, her recent trek to Pickering marked the first official meet that Malmiste attended as she began to absorb the adjustments that need to be made in dealing with venues that might differ, just a little, from her training home in New Sudbury.

“There was a different floor there; it felt kind of like a carpet,” she stated. “We need to get used to different floors so that we know what to expect. The beam was really good – very used, which makes it easier – but the vault strip was a little weird.”

As she looks forward to qualifier number two, Malmiste does so with both confidence and comfort in the skills she will be showcasing. “On the bars, I’m doing really good right now,” she said. “I’ve actually got my handstand on the low bar and on the high bar.”

“I have a really pop floor routine, showing lots of moves and lots of sass in it. It’s really me and I really like it.”

Fourteen year old Melina Doiron can fully appreciate the excitement of her younger teammate.

Been there, done that.

And just as was the case for Malmiste, Doiron made due with whatever training venues availed themselves to her. “We did a lot of Zoom workouts, with conditioning and stuff, and I would work on routines at my house,” said the teenager who plans to take a step back from the rigours of ultra-competitive gymnastics training next year as she broadens her athletic focus at high-school.

“In the summer, I would go for runs, just to keep myself active. I swam tons and tons in the pool, and that helped me a lot.”

First introduced to gymnastics at the age of two, Doiron made the move to the Laurels roughly four years ago, crossing over at a time when she was seriously contemplating packing it all in. In spite of the chaos of a global pandemic, the grade eight student at Lo-Ellen Park Intermediate School is thankful that she stuck it out.

“The training is much more intense – I feel much stronger,” she suggested. “One of my weakest events before was bars, but now I feel that it’s one of my strongest. We do a lot of workouts for the specific events, but we also work a lot on arm strength, upper body strength, doing lots of chin ups.”

Ironically, Doiron lists the vault as her favourite event, over time. “I love running and track and field and all that – and vault gives me that,” she said. “I just love the power you have to put into it. I struggle sometimes with hitting the board at the right spot, usually hitting the back of the board.”

“You want to hit the top to give you lots of power.”

As the workouts intensity, Doiron focuses on the end goal, one final shot at the all-Ontario meet.

“I would really like to go to that,” she said. “If you hit a 36 (overall aggregate score) or higher, you make it. You need one really high score, likely on vault or floor for me. Those are the events I’m really comfortable on. I don’t stress as much as bars and beam.”

And if it comes to pass, it will be with mixed emotions that Doiron performs in an event that could book-end her career in the gym.

“I really want to try other sports,” she said. “With my gymnastics training, you train every day, which is awesome, but I want to try something new – maybe track and field, flag football, volleyball.”

“We’re a great group here, so I will miss that a lot, workouts with all of my friends.”

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