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Coach and teacher, all rolled into one gymnastically-inclined package

It would hard to deny that the roles of coaches and teachers often run in parallel paths.

And like so many in our community who perform double duty in this regard, the worlds of GymZone Sudbury Laurels' coach Ali Weslake will often converge - for very good reason.

"I've always liked helping people in the group," recalled Weslake, reminiscing of her days as a competitive gymnast. "At competitions, I was always the one supporting other people. I think that carried into my coaching, which was nice."

It would only stand to reason then that the native and long-time resident of Georgetown (Ontario) would contemplate attending Laurentian University following her graduation from Christ the King Catholic Secondary School, pursuing her Bachelor of Arts and degree in Concurrent Education, and working these days on her Masters in Education.

"I've always wanted to become a teacher," noted the 27 year old woman, who now heads up the Trampoline & Tumbling component of the competitive field with the Laurels, in this, her 10th year with the organization.

"Class management is a big thing, with both coaching and teaching, catering lessons and strategies to each individual student or athlete. You have to understand who you are working with and how they learn."

Chat with Weslake for just a few minutes and one quickly realizes why the GymZone now consider it quite the coup to have secured the services of the young woman who, somewhat ironically, competed for the same club, in her youth, as did long-time Laurels' coach Michelle Seanor.

"I wasn't planning on coaching my first year in Sudbury, but she (Seanor) offered me a position and it was only a few times a week, which was pretty manageable," said Weslake. First initiated to quasi-coaching roles at the age of just 11, the elder of two girls in the family carried with her a very healthy approach to her new job at the GymZone, one which would gradually expand from her work with strictly recreational athletes.

"I think a lot of it is understanding that you are not an expert, and probably never will be," she said. "You might know a lot, but you won't always have the answers, or know what works and why it works. You learn a lot as you go, learn from the experiences."

Even with just a decade or so on her Laurels' coaching resume, Weslake acknowledged the growth that has already occurred. "Coming in as a new coach, you have all of these plans, and you just assume that they all will work," she said with a laugh. "But then you realize that maybe your equipment is gone, or the child doesn't learn that way."

"I've picked up a lot from other people. You kind of pick and choose little things, from multiple different people, so I don't think there is really one specific person that I model myself after. I think I learned what worked for me as an athlete, and have started to learn what works for me as a coach."

It was this very foundation of stability, this enlightened approach that would lead GymZone management to offer Weslake the position of heading up the T & T component at the New Sudbury facility, a clear departure from the comfort level that the young woman had established in the world of gymnastics.

"I was specifically WAG (women's artistic gymnastics) my entire life," she explained. "I had never been to tumbling competitions, to trampoline competitions, or anything like that. I took it over initially as a fill-in, but it ended up sticking, which was awesome."

Here was a challenge that Weslake could really sink her teeth into.

"There are a lot of the same skills, but they are executed a lot differently," she noted. "Being able to teach that, and understand the mechanics of that has been interesting. There were a lot of videos, and Terra (Davidson - club head coach) had some knowledge, so we talked a lot."

Still, Weslake was inheriting, within her stable of athletes, Connor MacDonald, a talented local tumbler who was just starting to make waves at a national level. "The speed that they are coming in at is a lot different, and he (MacDonald) comes in with seven different skills, versus just two on a floor tumbling line," she said.

"It's a matter of figuring out many different aspects very quickly, because it does happen a lot faster. You're just worried about not letting them down, especially someone at Connor's level, where there is a lot riding on that."

Despite spending a lifetime in the world of women's artistic, Weslake remains thankful for this new opportunity.

"I would have loved to continue just with WAG, that would have been great too, but I've learned so much with T & T, and I don't think I could leave it at this point," she said. "It's one of those things where if you didn't know what you're missing, you're likely not to miss it."

All in all, her busy timetable has rounded out nicely in Sudbury. Beyond her work at the gym, Weslake teaches part-time at Cambrian College, and has also found an outlet for her competitive instincts as an athlete, progressing from a neophyte in the world of dragon boating, to now being part of a competitive Sudbury Canoe Club entry (Ice Dragons) over the stretch of just four short years.

"I was used to competitive training, so it wasn't really anything new, but the sport itself was so different (than gymnastics)," she said. "I didn't know what I was getting myself into, to be honest. But it's been phenomenal, my first time really involved in a team sport."

"There are 22 people in a boat, and they all rely on you."

Perhaps it is that bond with others that forms the basis for the love of coaching and teaching.

"I didn't really have anywhere specific that I wanted to be in coaching," noted Weslake. "It's just to get success for the athletes, and knowing that you played a part in that. Helping them achieve their goals becomes your goal, in a sense."

Orendorff and Associates