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World Age Group Championships in Bulgaria for Hector Loiselle
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In 2019, the Sudbury Laurels celebrated their 50th anniversary, taking time to absorb all that had been accomplished in the first half century since the local gymnastics club blossomed from very modest local roots.

Turns out the second fifty years is very much off and running as well.

Last Friday, local tumbler Hector Loiselle boarded an airplane with a final destination of Sofia, Bulgaria – site of the World Age Group Championships. A member of a Canadian delegation of some 30-35 athletes, the 14 year old grade nine student at Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School was the only competitor in his bracket to qualify national by virtue of having reached both the degree of difficulty and score standards that were established.

A member of the GymZone – Sudbury Laurels for the past seven or eight years or so now, Loiselle is, by all accounts, the first gymnast to represent the facility internationally at a Worlds event while still training locally.

Safe to say this is a pretty big deal.

“To have an athlete that has qualified for an international event of this caliber, World Age Groups, is a huge deal,” confirmed Alexandra Larocque, general manager of the venue. To the former competitive basketball and track star, this is even more noteworthy given the individual involved.

“As you know, Hector is more reserved,” she said, appreciating that Loiselle is, by his nature, more quiet yet respectful than most. “But he’s now coaching for us - there’s just so many aspects of gymnastics here that he has been a part of. You can see the personal and individual growth in him, the growth he has experienced.”

“That’s something that I am almost more proud of than his gymnastics skills.”

Now in her fourth or fifth year of working directly as his coach (the pandemic is making it a little challenging to identify specific timelines when activities were on again – off again), Ali Weslake has seen that much-needed boost in confidence, surely to some extent part and parcel of the simple maturing process that Loiselle is experiencing, both physically and emotionally.

“He knows his goals and how to achieve them,” she said. “He’s always been a super dedicated athlete - but he just seems to have a lot more focus on making higher levels now.”

No surprise then that a week or two before his first ever trip to Europe, the talented teen should be expressing cautious optimism, this despite really not having a whole lot to go on to gauge exactly where competitors from an event that is likely to welcome fifty or more countries might match-up in terms of relative competitiveness.

“I am pretty good at getting to the end of my passes – and my landings have been pretty good,” said Loiselle. “Before, I was having issues with falling a lot but these, now, I’ve been able to land maybe 70% to 80% of the time – so that makes me happy.”

Thankfully, a handy source of at least some information regarding this type of event came courtesy of former national team tumbling coach Denis Vachon, the native of Rayside-Balfour who got his start in local gyms in both Dowling as well as some of the various homes of the Laurels in town.

“This event is going to be on a completely different scale for Hector,” said Larocque. “He has to be mentally prepared for that. There are all of those tips and tricks that you would only know if you have frequented these kinds of events – and for Denis, this is almost second nature.”

It all adds up to an environment that is ripe for success, as much as trying to determine exactly what the measure of success is, given all that is unknown.

For coach and athlete, a degree of success has already been achieved, simply by virtue of how far that Loiselle has already come. “He has learned to trust the process,” said Weslake. “He used to be scared of certain skills and now he does those for warm-up. He’s asking to do the skills that used to scare him before.”

Clearly, it is far more excitement than fear than resides in Hector Loiselle as he heads to his first international meet. “I am so excited to go to Europe – and so excited to practice with some of the best coaches in Canada, to get some of their advice,” said Loiselle.

Early feedback from his time in Bulgaria has the young gymnasts already reporting a “wow” factor at some of the skills that he is seeing performed.

That’s not a bad thing at all.

Before you know it, those skills may well be part of his arsenal, a base of physical contortions that will add yet another chapter in the ever expanding book of achievements by all those involved with the Sudbury Laurels.

Northern Hockey Academy