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HIGH ACHIEVERS: Gymnast Kylar Rathwell aiming high to become a freestyle ski aerialist

HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic

A New Journey (Part 2 of 3): Three local athletes have been selected by national sport governing bodies for sport-specific training. Each have excelled in their current sports, but have been recruited for opportunities based on their athletic potential in new sports. The initiative is connected to RBC Training Ground, a program that identifies athletes with Olympic potential across many sports. Today, High Achievers features Kylar Rathwell.

Read A New Journey (Part 1 of 3): Multi-sport athlete Adriano Padoin-Castillo on Speed Skating Canada’s radar

Read A New Journey (Part 3 of 3): Volleyball player Griffin Grainger shows early signs of becoming a rower

Olympia Gymnastics athlete Kylar Rathwell. File photo

By Martin Cleary

For most of her young life, Kylar Rathwell, 15, has been studying and mastering the ins and outs and ups and downs of artistic gymnastics.

But she knows there’s more to life than a series of tumbling moves or tight-rope walking on the balance beam at Olympia Gymnastics in Stittsville. She has stepped outside the box for soccer and baseball, too.

And now there’s another sport on her athletic horizon – freestyle skiing, and more specifically, the high-flying discipline of aerials, which has been a category where Canadians have excelled for many decades, including Canadian team coach Jeff Bean of Ottawa.

Rathwell is a provincial-level gymnast, finishing her ninth level. There are 10 in total. But she also realizes her days as a competitive gymnast are running short. So, she started investigating her next move.


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Thirteen months ago, Rathwell attended an in-person RBC Training Ground testing session at the University of Ottawa. She was tested for speed, power and endurance and Sabrina Guerin of Freestyle Ski Canada liked what she saw.

“Just by her look and the way she was approaching the event, I could tell she was a gymnast,” said Guerin, Freestyle Ski Canada’s manager sport development and former national-team and World Cup aerialist.

“She was serious, determined and giving 100 per cent. I talked to her a bit during that day, but I couldn’t tell if she was really interested to try the sport.”

Guerin sent Rathwell an email a month later and all was good.

Rathwell learned about RBC Training Ground through a TV commercial and thought it would be a good investment.

“Gymnastics is not a long sport. Many drop out at 18,” she said. “I wanted to stay active.”

She remembers the testing as a good experience and chatting with Guerin. There were introductions and they spoke briefly, but Rathwell came away with one thought: “I didn’t think much of it (freestyle skiing.)”

The in-person/virtual test results of thousands of Canadian athletes aged 14-25 also were studied by officials from boxing, nordic combined, ski jumping, speed skating, cycling, rowing, rugby and canoe-kayak.

RBC Training Ground is in its sixth year and is a free Canada-wide talent identification and athlete-funding program driven by the Canadian Olympic Committee.

Initially, Rathwell was “a little scared, a little surprised,” when she first heard from Guerin. But in a follow-up email, Guerin said she would like Rathwell to take some sport-specific tests.

It took a while to schedule the next set of tests because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But Rathwell went to Morin Heights, Que., to show her acrobatic skills on an outside Olympic trampoline.

Kylar Rathwell is now training in freestyle skiing aerials. Photo provided

“She showed some great abilities, but mostly, she was easily coachable, she had a lot of endurance, she was willing to try new things and she had a great line in the air,” Guerin added.

That led to an invitation to the national-team training centre in Quebec City, where she slide down the small water ramp and did elementary tricks before landing in the pool. A non-skier, she also felt comfortable meeting the national team athletes and coaches.

This winter, Guerin found a coach to teach Rathwell how to ski and feel comfortable on skis. If Rathwell passes more sport-specific tests, she could be nominated for the RBC Training Ground National Finals.

The top 100 athletes will go through more testing at the National Finals, which may be scheduled in the fall, depending on health and safety protocols. Thirty athletes will receive financial packages to allow them to develop in their new sports.

Rathwell, who watched aerial competition videos and was concerned about “how high they were” in the air, is settling into the sport, while continuing her training in artistic gymnastics.

“There’s still a few unknowns, but it’s a good experience so far,” she said. “I’m trying something fresh and new and it’s keeping me motivated. I work harder in gymnastics to get stronger for my next RBC tests.”

Rathwell also finds motivation at home in Ashton, Ont. (which borders Ottawa’s rural southwest). Her sister Regan is a high-performance swimmer preparing for the 2021 Olympic trials in late May.

Read more: Local aquatics crew has youngest member of Team Ontario

Read more: 15-year-old claims senior national swim silver

“We definitely motivate each other,” Kylar said. “I train at night, she trains in the morning, but we train twice a week doing workouts together in our little gym at home.

“Anything I got into, she had done before. Her experience has helped me and calmed me down. It’s helpful to have her around.”

Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 48 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.

When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.

Martin can be reached by e-mail at martincleary51@gmail.com and on Twitter @martincleary.


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