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Injury can’t keep gymnast down

Gymnast Megan Roberts started her first season on Canada’s junior team with an unlucky break.

A fluke slip off the balance beam in October landed the 13 year-old in a  shoulder cast. Her six-week recovery pinched any chance to compete before Elite Canada, the January qualifier that determined where she would compete this season.

Given the situation, Roberts might have performed her routine to Under Pressure.

Instead, she hit her first national-level competition with Thunderstruck.

Megan Roberts trains on the uneven bars at the East York Gymnastics Club. PHOTO: Andrew Hudson

Megan Roberts trains on the uneven bars at the East York Gymnastics Club.
PHOTO: Andrew Hudson

“She’s a lights-camera-action kind of kid,” said Lawson Hamer, one of her two coaches at East York Gymnastics Club.

“When it comes time to put her hand up and compete, she’s really good at that.”

Several of the paper banners hanging in the club announce Roberts’ recent wins: a bronze at nationals in Ottawa, a team gold at the Junior Pan Ams in Brazil, and two team silvers from championships in Montreal and Richmond, BC.

Of them all, Roberts said the Pan Am championships in Aracaju, Brazil were the most exciting.

She and her three junior teammates, Sydney Townsend, Rose Woo, and Shallon Olsen, got to spend nine days in the coastal city, enjoying 30°C beaches while her home in the Beach was still closer to -30°C.

They worked well as a team, with each excelling in one of the four events: vault, uneven bars, balance beam, and floor.

“Floor is probably my best event,” said Roberts, adding that where she performs some of her highest-difficulty skills, like the “full in” that combines a double flip and a twist.

Roberts said she enjoys every event, though she does get nervous on the balance beam.

Asked if that’s because of her shoulder injury, Roberts said no, getting over that was surprisingly easy.

“There’s just more chances to fall,” she said. “You have to be really mentally focused.”

Hamer, who mainly coaches Roberts on the uneven bar and the vault, said Roberts is showing the focus she needs to keep learning more skills.

“Being a first-year junior and new to the national team, there was a lot of pressure to perform well, without a lot of experience,” he said.

“She certainly stepped up.”

Roberts also trains exceptionally hard. Joining the junior team meant upping her training to five hours a day, six days a week.

Besides Hamer, she works with Lisa Cowan, who choreographs and coaches her through the balance beam and floor events. Once she has practised all four events, Roberts still has 25 conditioning exercises to do.

“It’s a mix of core, back, legs, and arms,” she said, pointing to two thick ropes dangling from the gym ceiling.

“We also have to climb a rope with an eight-pound weight on our legs.”

Later, watching her daughter vault into mid-air twists and flips, Lynda Rinkenbach said although it does take real juggling to balance her training with school, Megan’s gymnastics have made her a better student.

“She was a kid that never sat still,” she said, smiling. “It trained her to be a lot more focused.”

Roberts not only takes after her coaches, but also her teammates the junior team, and members of the senior team who she got to meet in BC this year.

Among her role models is Ellie Black, an 18 year-old gymnast from Halifax who was among the women who led Canada to a record fifth-place finish at the 2012 Olympics.

That performance seems to be part of a growing trend, said Hamer.

Back in the eighties and early nineties, Canada had just five or six clubs training national-level gymnasts like Roberts. There are many more now, he said, and with some 4,500 kids a year going through East York Gymnastics’ recreational program, there is also a growing general interest in the sport.

For her part, Roberts said she would love to join Black as part of the new wave of Canadian gymnasts.

“When I’m older, I want to go to the Olympics,” she said. “Even if I don’t make it to the Olympics, going to Worlds would be a pretty big deal too.”

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