By Martin Cleary
OLYMPIC PROSPECTS (Part 2 of 8): Kylar Rathwell has seen the future and she loves it.
Almost a year into her sports transformation, the Grade 11 Carleton Place High School student is learning the step-by-step process of becoming a freestyle skier in the discipline of aerials.
Her plan to fly high, manoeuvre madly quickly and land cleanly into an upcoming Winter Olympics is right on schedule, especially after she was named last week as one of the Top 30 athletes in the RBC Training Ground competition.
The sixth annual competition started in January, 2020, but took two years to complete because of delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 4,000 athletes participated in in-person or virtual physical testing as part of “a nation-wide talent identification program dedicated to finding and funding Canada’s future Olympians.” Ten national sport governing bodies oversaw the competition and recruited athletes suitable for their sports.
Rathwell, who lives in Ashton, ON., was one of seven Ottawa and area athletes, the most from any Canadian city, to earn the opportunity to join the development team of a national sport association, be funded for a two-year period and experience the support needed to reach a future Olympics.
A former provincial-level artistic gymnast, Rathwell was approached by Freestyle Canada after her initial RBC Training Ground physical testing session at the University of Ottawa. Her test results led to more sport-specific training, a nomination by Freestyle Canada to the competition’s Top 100 and then a final national testing session in Toronto in November to select the Top 30.
For the past 10 months, Rathwell has worked with Freestyle Canada to learn the fundamentals of becoming an aerials skier. She has been learning to downhill ski at Camp Fortune with her coach Maude, going off bumps to experience the sensation of landing and did water ramp training for her back and front flip jumps last summer in Lac Beauport, Que.
Three weeks ago, Rathwell was told she was one of the 30 RBC Training Ground winners, but she could only tell her immediate family. Freestyle Canada knew of course, and seized the moment to introduce a new step in the process for Rathwell, who travelled to last week’s World Cup men’s and women’s aerials competitions in Le Relais, Que.
Rathwell spent a week at the event as a volunteer, which included helping to maintain the landing hill to make the textured snow as safe and absorbent as possible for the world’s best skiers.
“It’s crazy to think that two years ago I didn’t know what aerials was and now I was seeing the best in the world,” Rathwell said in a phone interview. “It was definitely intimidating at first. But over the course of the week, I experienced what it’s like and the life of an aerials’ skier. I got to see what they do in person.
“I think I’ve grown to love the sport in such a small time. It has all the flips of gymnastics, but it also gives me new things to work on.”
Since the pandemic has cancelled all domestic competitions, Rathwell has been restricted to training three times a week on snow and six hours a week with a trampoline coach at the Tumblers Gymnastics Centre.
“It’s a progressive sport. A lot of what I’m doing is very dangerous,” added Rathwell, who needs to develop proper form over time for a safe experience. “When it’s time to do the flips, I’ll know what I can do and all the possibilities of what can happen.”
Rathwell hopes to be able to do some elementary manoeuvres off the snow ramps later this winter. In 2022, she will spend most of the summer in Lac Beauport, Que., working on her jumps at water ramp camps. By 2023, she hopes to go to Finland to train with the national team at a major international event for experience and confidence, but she wouldn’t be part of the competition. By 2024, she plans to compete in World Cup competitions.
The past Olympia Gymnastics athlete also is not alone in this adventure. Freestyle Canada had three recruits accepted into the Top 30 of the RBC Training Ground program. Rathwell has kept in regular contact with former diver Elodie Caron and former artistic gymnast Sarah Faith, both from the Montreal region.
“I’m close with both of them and definitely communicate almost every day about skiing or personal things,” she continued. “This helps to be more comfortable.
“I definitely like that there’s always something new. When I get one skill, they give other options. Aerials has a flip aspect and that’s what I loved about gymnastics. It gives me an adrenaline rush.”
While the testing and the waiting took two years to determine the RBC Training Ground Class of 2022, it was well worth it, according to Rathwell.
“RBC has given me the ambition to pursue a new sport. It has opened my eyes for a new perspective on sport. My sports (artistic gymnastics and freestyle skiing aerials) are entirely different. This is definitely a big step. I’m really happy with my decision and I’m confident I’ve made the right one.”
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 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 High Achievers “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 firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.
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