Whitehorse Daily Star

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CONTINUING TO TRAIN - The Polarettes gymnasts continue to work toward their long-term goals despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Pictured is Jenna Henderson as she does her bar routine during the gymnastics 2020 Arctic Winter Games trials on Dec. 6, 2019. Photo by TEAM YUKON/SARAH LEWIS

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Photo by John Tonin

NOT EMPTY ANYMORE – The Polarettes gym is seen in May after reopening with appropriate COVID-19 measures. The club was the first to resume training in Canada.

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Photo by John Tonin

Kimberly Jones

Gymnasts remain focused on their goals

In May, the Polarettes were the first gymnastics club in the country to reopen its doors after the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered gyms nation-wide.

By John Tonin on October 8, 2020

In May, the Polarettes were the first gymnastics club in the country to reopen its doors after the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered gyms nation-wide.

During non-COVID times, the season would be full-steam-ahead with competitions quickly appearing on the horizon.

But, of course, that is not the reality for the Yukon's gymnasts. Still, they are moving ahead with training, keeping the athletes motivated, is something head coach Kimberly Jones said the gym is still working on.

"It's a question that we at the gym don't have a full answer to yet," said Jones. "We've been training really well since Arctic Winter Games got cancelled. The kids were on Zoom diligently multiple times a week.

"At first we thought it was temporary, super-temporary, so everyone just went, 'well we have to keep going' because we are going to have competitions."

Jones said the club is looking at least a year, maybe more before the team can travel again.

"For gymnastics, it sounds like there is a good chance we don't compete this season Outside the territory," she said.

She said the gym has experienced some moments of lack of motivation from athlete to coach, but they are overcoming that.

"We definitely went through a bit of a lull in the gym about what drives us then," said Jones. "Because we all have goals in the gym, but what usually makes them happen quickly is the timeline of a competition."

The coaches and athletes have been focusing on what they can control, skill and technique upgrades, and fitness.

"We've been working a lot more on upgrades and a lot more on fitness," said Jones. "Our kids have been going to see Ben (McPherson) at Northern Strength (Academy) because the gym is limited on how many kids we can have per hour.

"The kids are starting to do some weight training for their fitness and on top of that we are just building skills as big as we can and setting bigger long-term goals."

Jones said fitness training was delegated to Northern Strength Academy so the club could get as many athletes safely into the gym to train.

"In order to give a little bit of equal opportunity to every one of or members, which last year was 1,000 people, we've really had to divvy up the schedule and we decided it wasn't the right decision to just give the time to the competitive athletes," she said.

Although there have been lulls, Jones said the athletes who have come back are "fired up" because they had months to reflect on their goals and why they are doing the training.

"After the COVID break, the kids had to make a conscious decision to come back to the gym," said Jones. "If you were wavering at all about whether or not you wanted to do gymnastics, for some it is 20 hours a week, you had three months at home with your family with nothing to do to give you an idea if there is other things you want to do or if you missed this sport.

"I think for a lot of athletes not just gymnastics, the ones who have come back and in our case fortunately was almost everybody, they have come back hungry even if there is a little bit of motivation lulls here and there."

In this interesting year, Jones said, they are lucky to be back in the gym and there is an opportunity there for those who want it.

"It's a matter of don't lose sight of the goals you set before COVID," said Jones. "You can take advantage, for some of our athletes, that you only have school half a day. You can take advantage of that and someone out there is.

"If you want it that bad, this is an amazing opportunity for athletes to really look at themselves and their motivation and what is a deficit in their program. As well as have the recovery time."

To give the gymnasts some taste of competition, Jones said the club is working on doing evaluations and online meets.

"There's thought about maybe doing virtual competitions because we are a judged sport so everyone can just submit their videos," said Jones. "It probably won't be ranked because everyone's video quality will be different."

A Christmas show is also in the plans.

"We've added a little Christmas show and we've told the kids there are no restrictions on that Christmas show," said Jones. "They will be doing gymnastic routines with the biggest, craziest upgrades they can do.

"Usually, some of those elements that they are going to show are restricted in competition. We are going to take advantage of this year in terms of pushing themselves beyond what competition would push them to try and go even further.

"That way next season, they can move up a level or two levels. This is unprecedented for gymnasts to have a year off collectively across the country just to work on skills."

Gymnasts work through a series of levels, one through 10, called Junior Olympic (JO). When at competition, a gymnast will compete at their JO level. Jones said there hasn't been any discussion about levelling up athletes this year.

"We aren't talking about levels because it doesn't matter at this point without meets. We are just trying to focus on skills and at the end see where they are at - especially for the younger kids.

"Three months out of gymnastics is a big deal. This is a sport you have to keep doing it. When you come back it is scary, and your body feels off and you grew. For most of the kids, we had to take 10 steps back."

Although they had to take some steps back, Jones said when the time comes, whenever that may be, the athletes might advance through the levels "like crazy."

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