By Mark Colley
When the pandemic first hit, Cléante Théorêt was happy. In Grade 8 at the time, Théorêt was relieved to finally get a break from gymnastics, which she had participated in since she was four.
Théorêt had been pursuing gymnastics while also trying to finish middle school. She was also a tutor and gymnastics coach on the weekend. When the world stopped, she finally slowed down.
In the early days of the pandemic, Théorêt didn’t work out or train at home. The break gave her renewed motivation for her sport.
“When the gyms finally opened back up, I was even better than when I left,” Théorêt said, explaining that she worked on a trampoline and mats at home once the fire returned. “I had so much more motivation and I’d gotten all these skills, so, honestly, I think that the break made me realize how much I wanted to accomplish in this sport.”
One of those accomplishments came late last month when the 16-year-old was named to the Ontario women’s artistic gymnastics Level 10 (age 16+) team for the Jan. 26-29 California Grand Invitational in Anaheim. It’s one step on the way to Théorêt’s goal of competing in the NCAA, despite the challenge of balancing her sport with school.
Théorêt finished second at the Ontario qualifying competition Nov. 19-20 in Burlington to earn her ticket to California. Fellow Ottawa Gymnastics Centre athlete Katherine Varney also qualified for the tour with her seventh-place performance in Level 6, while Aurélie Brisson of Les Sittelles will be the first alternate for Ontario’s Level 8 team after placing ninth.
“It means everything to me,” Théorêt highlighted. “I honestly did not think I was gonna be able to make it. I know I had gotten better than last year … but I didn’t think I had a shot.”
The qualifier in Burlington also served as the first of two qualifiers for Ontario’s Canada Games team, so should she make the grade for the Feb. 18-Mar. 5 national youth multi-sport competition in Prince Edward Island, she’d have to choose between the California tour and the Canada Games.
Regardless, Théorêt’s goal for this season was to make a team, simply because she loves being part of a group so much. She’s now blown that goal out of the water.
“She’s just literally a ray of sunshine,” said Mélanie Major, Théorêt’s coach at OGC. “She works her butt off, so it’s really nice that she’s gonna get this.”
Major, the women’s artistic gymnastics technical coordinator and senior performance coach at OGC, has coached Théorêt for nearly two and a half years. She described Théorêt as team-oriented and driven.
“She’s one of those people that is always trying to involve the team,” Major said. “She has this wonderful sportsmanship and understands the team aspect of it, even if it is an individual sport.”
Major said Théorêt will cheer loudly for her teammates at competitions, to the point where coaches from other clubs are thrown off. As one of the oldest athletes at OGC, Théorêt is setting a strong example for others, Major added.
Théorêt said the team aspect of gymnastics is her favourite part of the sport.
“My teammates and I are like sisters,” she underlined. “We see each other 25 hours a week, so I’m happy that we like each other.”
Théorêt also enjoys performing — especially on the floor — because it’s the event that allows her to show her personality.
But as demonstrated by the burnout she felt at the start of the pandemic, the pressures of gymnastics can be high. Théorêt leaves Franco-Cité high school early to go to the gym and gets home at 9 p.m., working on homework until she has to sleep and do it all again the next day. While she has weekends off from gymnastics, she often uses the time to catch up on school.
“It was definitely a lot [before the pandemic] and I do the same thing now, but I’m definitely better at it,” Théorêt indicated.
She’s learned how to ask for help and get work done at creative times. Théorêt said she’ll sometimes wake up early to do homework, or complete it during her lunch break at school.
And while her social life has taken a hit, she is close with her friends from gymnastics.
Major said the stress of being a high-level gymnast at Théorêt’s age is always feeling like it’s never enough.
“It is hard because these athletes want to excel at everything,” Major said.
That’s not to say Théorêt doesn’t enjoy school. Her favourite subject is science, specifically the science of movement. She said she’s leaning towards pursuing a degree in physiotherapy at university.
While successfully balancing the rigors of life as a high-level gymnast, Théorêt also has her eyes set on competing in the NCAA. Once something she dreamed of as a kid, the Grade 11 student now has a few schools that are showing interest in her.
“She has what it takes, but she does need to upgrade her difficulty a little tiny bit,” Major noted. “I think any college would be lucky to have her.”
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