A local gymnast since the age of four, Jennifer Iestwaard was contemplating calling it quits after this year. Now 17 years of age, the grade 11 student at Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School last qualified for Gymnastics Ontario Provincial Championships back in 2018, when she competed in Level 4.
Touching up the finer details of her routines a couple of weeks ago at the GymZone Gymnastics & Athletics in New Sudbury, the talkative teenager was feeling better than ever in the days leading up to her all-Ontario meet in London last weekend.
"I was always worried before about every competition, worried I was going to fall," said Iestwaard, one of eight members of the Sudbury Laurels who attended the event. "This time, I am super confident about what I am doing; I am excited to go."
"This year was going to be my last year, but I feel like I can push it one more year."
Her results from provincials are not likely to change the optimistic outlook she has for 2023-2024.
Competing in Level 7 15+, Iestwaard earned a bronze medal on both the vault and the beam, helping her towards a third place finish in the All-Around category, bettering the outlook she had just over a week ago.
"I am coming off an injury and hoping everything goes good," she said. "I would like to maybe place on one event, maybe get a medal."
Where some found it difficult to navigate the Covid-imposed breaks that have been endured since March of 2020, Ietswaard was far more thankful, retrospectively speaking.
"We weren't doing any competitions, we were taking a break and I believe that was great for me," she said. "It allowed my body time to heal. The break actually allowed me to gain more skills and more confidence."
Also bumped up a couple of levels, Brooke Wylie was entering the event with far more modest goals, her climb in categories being far more recent.
"Last year I was Level 4; this year I am Level 6," said the grade nine student at ESC l'Horizon who moved from Barrie to Sudbury in recent years. "A lot of times people will skip Level 5 because it is pretty similar to Level 6."
While she has noticed some encouraging improvement of late, Wylie acknowledged that the effects of the pandemic combined with an altered training regimen have her just beginning to reach her potential in the sport.
"The bars gave me the biggest challenge, at first, but then also floor because I wasn't really all that powerful at my old gym," said Wylie. "When I moved here, I got more powerful quickly. I am doing more conditioning and more drills here."
"I want to have more fun (at provincials). The last time I went, I was really stressed."
Part of the grouping in Level 15+, Wylie will look to build on top ten finishes in both vault (8th) and beam (9th) moving forward.
Joining Iestwaard in bringing home some hardware was Desiree Malmiste (Level 6 - age 11/12) with gold on vault and bronze on floor, earning a special award on the vault, as well as Avery Roy (Level 7 - age 13/14) who finished third on the vault en route to a 5th place all-around ribbon.
At least as important in the mind of coach Julie McEwen was the fact that a number of personal best scores were recorded by the likes of Camilla Burns (Level 6 - age 11/12 - PB in her AA score), Brooke Bernstein (Level 6 - age 11/12 - PB on bars; 9th on floor) and Naomi Lake (Level 7 - age 13/14 - PB on bars; 11th on floor), while Myah Tessarolo (Level 6 - age 13/14) just barely missed a medal, placing fourth on the beam and 9th in her floor routine.
This week sees the Level 3 - 5 crew of Elina Zelionka, Hermione Le Coz, Annabelle Wiley, Gracie Currie and Klara Martic heading south for provincials, though only as far as Alliston.