Leaving for the Gymnastics Ontario provincial championships last week for the first time in three years, Naomi Lake, Camilla Burns and the rest of the Sudbury Laurels team were as excited as any young athletes could be.
In at least one case, maybe more, the trip represented the first ever visit to Ottawa for the young local competitors.
Ottawa – the nation’s capital – blessed with all sorts of attractions and things to see – and sadly, one of several pockets all across Ontario that were affected by a string of tornadoes that touched down in areas that they seldom do this past weekend.
“They had called us in, put the athletes in groups, marched them on to the floor and were just about to introduce every athlete and the lights went out,” recalled Laurels coach Julie McEwen, preparing for a Saturday afternoon session with Avery Roy. “It went totally black – then the emergency lights came on.”
Among a group of athletes, coaches, parents and such that numbered several hundred strong at the EY Centre near the airport (likely 500 people or so in all), McEwen had received the emergency phone warning, minutes earlier, about a pending storm. All of which did little to prepare the masses for what they were about to experience.
“The walls shook – it was almost like they moved – and then we heard this loud noise and I’m guessing now it was the wind, but I’m not sure they even know now exactly what hit us,” said McEwen. “Coaches ran for their athletes and went to stand by the large posts, away from the doors.”
“It was very frightening.”
The ensuing power outages would force the cancellation of the final day and a half of competition, with Laurels Brooke Bernstein, Desirée Malmiste and Naomi Lake squeezing in their events on Friday, while Victoria Jeanveau, Avery Roy and Camilla Burns await news on possible rescheduled dates.
For the likes of Roy and McEwen and the others on hand on Saturday, it made for a memorable set of provincials, though not in a good way. “To be honest, I’m not really sure how long we were huddled in the building,” said McEwen. “I would say probably 20 minutes, maybe 30, and then we started to move around.”
“When we did get to go outside, lights were on top of vehicles, there were vehicles with their windows imploded, all of the main power lines were down. My hotel was opposite the centre and all of these huge trees were totally uprooted. We heard that the (gymnastics) equipment truck was overturned in the parking lot.”
“It was crazy.”
And, quite frankly, it was a scene that was the furthest thing from the minds of Lake and Burns as they put the finishing touches on their provincials’ preparation last week. “There’s going to be more people there (than at qualifiers) and they’re going to be better – and there’s going to be more judges, too,” said Naomi Lake, outlining her expectations of the all-Ontario meet just a few days before her departure to Ottawa.
None of the Laurels had ever been to provincials previously. All had enjoyed solid showings as the traditional three qualifier set-up was trimmed to two to account for six weeks or so without gymnastics from mid-December through to the beginning of February. All could point to highlights from the 2021-2022 campaign, reasons for optimism as they readied to face the rest of the province.
“The vault is my best event; at the last competition, I got a 9.5 on the vault,” stated Lake, a 13 year old grade seven student at Lasalle Secondary. “I always have my legs really straight and together. I had a nice bump too, coming off (the vault). I like that vault but I also feel that I have another one that I am practicing, with a round-off and a back handspring.”
“I feel like I’m pretty good at that one too.”
No surprise that the floor routine also ranks among her favourites, with all of the various aspects that it entails. “I like some of the dance I have in there,” said Lake, who did studio training for a couple of years when she was younger. “I’ve had this music for a while and always wanted to use it – it’s really upbeat.”
“And I really like the last part because it’s like a lion’s roar,” she added.
The truth is that Lake scores well, even beyond the dance. “I feel like I’m a really good tumbler because I get really high in my tumbling routine.”
Competing on the Friday, Lake did not have to be concerned about the storm – though she had a more practical apprehension on her mind as she discussed the different venues that are used for the various competitions.
“We’re still doing the same skills and events – but it can bother me a little when we are at a gym where there’s two of everything,” she said. “I feel like that’s kind of weird because when you are doing your floor routine and someone else is doing their floor, it’s kind of distracting.”
Having just celebrated her 11th birthday, Camilla Burns will have to wait just a little longer to enjoy her first provincials, a reward for seeing things through these past two years. “We did on-line workouts and stuff, so that kept me kind of active,” suggested the grade five student at Valley View Public School.
“But keeping myself motivated to do it was hard. I just wanted to sit down and watch a movie or something.”
Though a tornado was not part of the picture that she painted, Burns had at least an inkling of what she could expect as she took her first crack at this particular level of competition.
“Provincials are going to be like a normal competition, only more intense, because they’re provincials,” said Burns, who noted that gymnastics became more serious about three years ago when she joined the Laurelettes. “I play hockey too, so I think what it’s like at tournaments and what my coaches say.”
“Every coach that I have had said to let the energy of the nerves go into your body.”
And much like Lake, this avid young fan of bagels and the music from Ratatouille also finds herself most in her element when she’s performing her floor routine. “It lets me express what I can do, all the way,” said Burns. “It doesn’t make me look like a kid who doesn’t want to be there.”
Notwithstanding a tornado, that is probably true.