By Martin Cleary
Rhythmic gymnastics is the driving force in Kimana Mar’s life.
By participating in the multi-discipline sport for 15 years, the dedicated and motivated Mar has become a highly honoured Special Olympic champion and has used the confidence she has gained from learning new elements and performing new routines to achieve academic and personal goals.
The next stop on her rhythmic gymnastics journey is the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Berlin, Germany, which start Saturday and continue through June 25.
The Berlin Games will be the third for Mar and, if her first two Special Olympic global celebrations of sport are any indication, she could have a few golden moments along the way.
Mar is the only Ottawa and area athlete named to the 89-athlete Canadian team.
At the 2019 Games in Abu Dhabi, the Ottawa Rhythmic Gymnastics Club athlete won five individual gold medals and two team golds for Canada.
Mar made her Summer Games’ debut in 2015 in Los Angeles, where she won five gold medals.
The medals are a product of her hard work, but that’s not her sole intended goal as she executes her routines in ribbon, ball, hoop, rope and clubs.
Her quality performances in front of judges and spectators have boosted her self-esteem and confidence and that has allowed her to confront everyday living with her head held high.
“It made me reach goals in school,” Mar said in a Special Olympics Canada press release. “I was able to make it through high school, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it has also helped me through college as well.”
After working her way through the school system, Mar is a student in the office administration program at Algonquin College. She finds her counsellors and professors in the Centre for Accessible Learning are inspiring and encouraging.
“I’ve seen my confidence soar. And my academics have really been helped with Special Olympics and I really don’t know where I would be without it.”
Besides increasing the degree of difficulty in her various rhythmic gymnastic routines and growing as an individual, Mar is using her sport experience to assist teammates Rebecca Birss of Manitoba, Patricia Colgan of Quebec and Jodi Klukas of British Columbia.
“As this is Kimana’s third World Games, she has stepped into a leadership role in the team,” said Canadian rhythmic gymnastics head coach Jennifer Fyfe.
“She has been sharing lots of information with the other athletes on what to expect at the Games. She has also been incredibly helpful with the other athletes by sharing with them some of her tips and tricks.”
At age five, Mar took ballet lessons, which served as good basic training for her transition to rhythmic gymnastics, which she said “blends athletics and artistry with technical skills, dance, music and costumes.”
“Rhythmic gymnastics is the perfect sport for me,” she added in a question-and-answer bio interview with Special Olympics Canada. “What I like the most about rhythmic gymnastics is performing for an audience.
“There are a variety of apparatuses to master (ball, loop, rope, clubs and ribbon). The ribbon is my favourite apparatus because of the flowing patterns I make as I perform.”
As she has evolved into a Special Olympics athlete over the years, every practice and every competition has given her more and more building blocks to develop her courage and confidence to try something new.
“From Special Olympics, I’ve learned that I need to try my best always, be ready to work hard, and never give up even when things don’t go well,” she continued. “The sense of confidence, belief in myself and determination has transferred over into my personal life and helped me achieve what I want to do with my life.
“I have met so many generous people, who have given their time to Special Olympics and helped me to improve as an athlete. Also, through Special Olympics rhythmic gymnastics, I have found a circle of close friends and now we socialize and do activities in addition to our sport.”
In the past, Mar has had to perform at local, provincial and national competitions to represent Team Canada at the World Games. But the selection process was a little different for the 2023 team as the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled the Ontario championships in 2020 and the Canadian championships in 2022.
Mar told Algonquin Times reporter Rory Friend “there was no actual way for us to qualify in the usual way, so we just got selected randomly by lottery.”
The Canadian rhythmic gymnastics team prepared for the Berlin World Games with training camps in April and last November as well as at their own sport venues.
Fyfe has observed that every one of the athletes was “more confident, adaptable, fit and excited.”
“The Special Olympics Team Canada experience has been incredibly positive for the athletes,” she added. “It is a unique opportunity for growth in so many ways. They are really looking forward to the overall experience.
“The main goal for World Games is for each athlete to come home feeling proud of themselves and to have had a wonderful time. I truly want them to look back and remember it for being a positive and uplifting experience.”
Mar totally agrees.
“My goal for Special Olympics World Summer Games Berlin 2023 is to do my best in my rhythmic gymnastics competitions,” she said.
“I also want to cheer on my teammates in rhythmic gymnastics and the other Team Canada sports. I am looking forward to meeting other athletes from around the world. I hope Team Canada will have a chance to see some sights and explore Berlin as tourists.”
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 email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.
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