Two St. Albert Gymnastics Club athletes have jumped, flipped, and twirled their way to a glorious finish at the 2022 Artistic Provincial Championships.
Madison Perkins, 16, and Isabella Swallow, 14, stood on the podium as All Around Provincial Champions in their level at provincials, which were held at the Bruce Saville Community Centre, University of Alberta South Campus, from April 8 to 10.
Perkins, a Level 6 gymnast, placed first on floor, vault, and bars, and took home the All-Around Championship medal. Humbled by her wins, Perkins realized only a few athletes return home with a medal around their necks.
“I was focused on doing my best. Where I would place was a small part of what was going through my head. When I heard, there was joy and relief. But getting the top score wasn’t a big priority,” Perkins said.
She added, “It’s crazy. I only train six hours a week, which is really low. But it really shows if you work hard, you can achieve what you want. If you’re devoted to something and you love what you do, it will show in the work you put out.”
The Grade 11 student at Stony Plain’s Memorial Composite High was surprised at the win, in part because last season Perkins retired from the sport, choosing to focus on school and coaching. However, she re-calibrated her involvement in gymnastics and re-established training in September after missing the close bond with lead coach Ereinne Hall and co-coach Carrie Dickenson-Lee.
“Maddie is one of the hardest-working gymnasts and the girls stop and watch her,” said Hall. “This win was definitely well-earned and a long time coming.”
Swallow, a Level 7 gymnast, placed first on beam, second on vault, and third on bars. Out of points given for accumulated events, she also earned the All-Around championship title.
“I was super surprised. I didn’t feel I had that good of a meet. I was also super proud and happy with all the stuff I’d done,” said Swallow, a Grade 9 student at Richard S. Fowler Catholic Junior High School. She trains 16 hours weekly, and in summer months practices up to 25 hours per week.
Both athletes showcase different personalities during their routines.
“Izzy is very graceful, very positive, very fluid. She always has a smile on her face and has such a good temperament. She's also a very good dancer and very artistic. Instead, Maddie is definitely powerful. She has great confidence in everything she does. She’s brave, a go-getter. She has a strong dynamic and to watch her is incredible,” Hall said.
The coach said both athletes train in the 10-level Junior Olympic (JO) Program developed in the United States. After completing JO levels, a gymnast moves up to the Elite program where serious training goes into developing an athlete for world competitions and the Olympics.
Hall has spent 27 years of her life at St. Albert Gymnastics Club, starting at age two in toddler programs. Standing at 5'9", she is one of the tallest gymnastics in Alberta and laughs while describing how her feet touch mats while swinging on the uneven bars.
“I love the feel of being strong. I love the feeling of invincibility. Doing back flips on a balance beam was a supernatural thing for me and my friends. I had a lot of fear and gymnastics helped me push through that."
Since American gymnast Simone Biles stepped back from competing at the 2022 Olympics, she has spurred rapidly evolving discussions about mental health issues athletes endure. She was plagued by the “twisties,” a phenomenon that refuses to allow a gymnast’s mind and body to synchronize enough to perform a routine safely.
Having faced her own fears, Hall is well placed to assist other young athletes who endure similar situations, such as Swallow. For several years, the younger athlete dealt with a mental block performing back flips. To downplay the high-pressure bubble of competition, the club’s gymnasts perform a ritual team prayer before every meet.
Perkins, who initiated the tradition, said, “I was eager to get things done in the best way possible and I started a little prayer with my teammates.”
Despite struggles with shin splints, back aches, and knees, both athletes are excited about the next few regional competitions.
Swallow summed it up by saying, “I like to see different clubs. I like to see how everyone does their routine. Just being with my coach is comforting for me. I like to get out there and do the best I can."