By Dan Plouffe
Lucinda Nowell is loving her new life and all the new experiences she’s now living as a member of Canada’s national group rhythmic gymnastics team.
The 2013 senior national silver medalist in individual clubs made her competition debut with the Canadian team at the Feb. 14-16 Elite Canada event in Edmonton and will head to Portugal and Italy next for a pair of World Cup competitions in April.
“It’s exciting to travel, and if I was in individual, I probably wouldn’t get to go outside Canada, except maybe for an invitational,” notes Nowell, a long-time member of the Kanata Rhythmic Gymnastics Club. “I feel really excited. It’s really cool. It’s nothing that I ever thought I’d get to do.”
Nowell’s path to group rhythmic began when she attended a tryout last June in Toronto.
“We sort of weren’t expecting that I’d make it and it’s just a good experience to have, and a chance to go in front of judges,” recalls Nowell, who received an invitation to join the team two weeks later. “I wasn’t really waiting and anticipating anything. When it came, we were kind of shocked, but it was really exciting.”
Nowell uses the collective “we” when she speaks because her family represents an instrumental extension of her athletic pursuits. With no way to practice as a group except by being together, Nowell had to move to Toronto to join the Canadian team. Nowell’s mom, Helen, now lives with her in a Leaside apartment. The decision to move and chase this new pursuit was made collectively.
“What I did last year, going to Montreal all the time, was hard,” highlights Nowell, who traveled numerous times per week to get additional training with Rythmik Quebec club this past season. “We couldn’t really pass up the opportunity.”
The former Earl of March Secondary School student switched to Leaside High School for her senior year and has just two courses left to take in the winter semester, which is a big help with a training schedule that eats up around 30 hours in six days per week at the Kalev Estienne Rhythmic Gymnastics Centres.
“It’s hard, but at the same time, it’s rewarding,” Nowell says. “I’m really glad we decided to come.”
The adaptation to group rhythmic has required a change in Nowell’s focus from working on body difficulties, balance, turns and jumps – as she’d become accustomed to doing individually – to building more power and precision in her throws so that she can have clean exchanges of apparatuses with her teammates.
“It’s almost like a whole new sport,” signals the athlete who placed fourth all-around in the senior national category at last year’s Canadian championships. “They’re the same basics, but it’s all different things to learn, and prioritize.”
The group rhythmic rookie has been helped along by her veteran teammates, including two London 2012 Olympians and three others who have all represented Canada internationally.
“For them, it’s nothing new,” Nowell notes, explaining that her teammates provided a calming influence at Elite Canada. “I thought I would be a lot more nervous than I would be for individual, thinking that I don’t want to let them down and be the one who screws up, but I found that I was less nervous, and just excited.
“Because it feels normal for them, it just feels normal for me.”
The team’s first day of competition at Elite Canada was “a little shaky,” Nowell says, but that wasn’t exactly unexpected given they are a new team with new routines.
“By the finals, I think we were a lot stronger,” she details. “It wasn’t super clean routines, but I think we were working together really well.”
There’s still plenty of work to do before the World Cups, adds Nowell, who’s secured positions in both of Canada’s routines, a pre-season goal of hers since only five of the six national team athletes get to participate in each performance.
“Now my goal is to compete with really solid routines and be clean and precise,” she indicates.
With the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games and Rio 2016 Olympics on the horizon, Nowell plans to put herself forth to be on the Canadian group team again come next season.
“Because we try out, it makes it hard to make (long-term) plans, but I’m just going to keep going as long as I can,” she pledges.
A+ at artistic Elite Canada
A small handful of other local athletes competed in the early-February artistic gymnastics Elite Canada meet in Gatineau.
National Capital’s Samuel Zakutney, owner of numerous national titles in youth divisions, carried on his dominance in his new junior men’s high-performance category, winning the all-around crown.
Making her debut in national competition, Julie Anne Fiset put in a performance that qualified her for the novice women’s high-performance stream, a first for her Tumblers Gymnastics Centre club.
“I was really happy and proud of myself,” says the 12-year-old. “It was really great to compete alongside gymnasts the best gymnasts from across Canada.”
Fiset enjoyed being able to sleep in her regular bed and have her parents attend the competition locally, a luxury she’ll also enjoy when she competes in May’s Canadian Gymnastics Championships in Ottawa.
“I’m really excited about it,” she adds. “But I still have a lot of work to do in order to be 100% ready for nationals.”
Also in February, a trio of Tumblers athletes found themselves side-by-side on the podium as they swept the top-3 all-around positions in the Level 8, Age 10-11 category at the women’s artistic provincial championships qualifying meet in Muskoka, besting numerous gymnasts from Brantford, Richmond Hill, Niagara Falls and Cambridge.
“Since we were all up there together, we all had big smiles and we were all super pumped about it,” recounts Jordan Faig, who placed third alongside teammates Maya Rana (second) and Alexandra Cameron (first). “We celebrated and congratulated each other and gave each other big hugs.”
Having teammates of similar ability levels is a great tool for everyone, Faig adds.
“We’re all super-duper close,” explains the Grade 6 Trillium Elementary School student. “We usually push each other to try new skills and complete our routines and encourage each other.”
Beth Webster was also an all-around champion for the Tumblers at the Muskoka meet. Webster’s victory in the Level 9, Age 12-13 event was somewhat unexpected, given that it was her first competition back after breaking the tibia and fibula in her leg last year while high jumping.
Broken leg recovery complete
“It was all crooked and my bone was super close to coming out,” Webster recounts with remarkable poise. “I was pretty sad about it. I was learning tons of new skills.”
The Grade 8 Louis-Riel high school student was in a cast for nine weeks, but that couldn’t keep her away from the gym.
“I’d still come in and do conditioning to try to get back as fast as I could,” she notes. “It took me a shorter time than I thought.”
Webster has now rebuilt her confidence, with the success in her return providing a further boost.
“(Winning gold) was something that I really wanted,” she highlights.
Local athletes returned home with a stack of all-around gold medals from the women’s provincials qualifier at Quinte Bay as well. OGC’s Elizabeth Mckee (L5 A11), Emma Vecchio (L6 A9), Maddison Kelleher-Radey (L6 A13), Bella Musca (L6 A10) and Bradey Rosettani (L8 A14+) were champions at the event, as were Corona’s Piper Veloso (L5 A10) and Danielle Doan (L9 A14+), and Julina Benjamin (L8 A10-11) and Fiona Leclair Robertson (L9 A12-13) from Les Sittelles.
National Capital’s Nathanael Teng (L3 A10-12) and OGC’s Justin Khalil (L4 A13+) were also victorious at the men’s provincials qualifier in Muskoka, while Spring Action’s Kelsey Ducharme (P2 15+) topped the field at her trampoline provincials qualifier.
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