A gaggle of Whistler Gymnastics athletes recently returned from the World Gymnaestrada event in Dornbirn, Austria.
The Whistler contingent consisted of 19 athletes ranging in age from 11 to 18 years old, coach Tami Mitchell, and 11 supporters at the non-competitive showcase event in which roughly 19,000 participants from 62 countries take part. The athletes themselves had varying experience levels and strengths, said Mitchell, and the routine they performed sought to put all 19 athletes to their best use.
"Some are competitive trampoline athletes, some are ex-competitive artistic gymnastics athletes and some are recreational, new to gymnastics but performing," said Mitchell.
As part of the event, the local club performed its eight-minute routine three times. The routine highlighted Canada's four seasons and the activities Canadians do in each of those periods.
Over the course of 10 months, the athletes assembled to work on the routine for 90 minutes every week, and Mitchell was thrilled to finally present it to the world.
"It was exciting seeing it all come together after two years of work and not knowing what to expect having not been there before," she said.
Participant Kira Tomchuk got involved roughly a year ago when a fellow gymnast who no longer competes thought it would be fun for them to do together. The 14-year-old was glad she got involved and worked with a wide range of new friends.
"Half of our team couldn't really do gymnastics and then the other half were ex-gymnasts, so it was really cool to see what we could do with everyone ... when we worked all together," she said.
Each country presented a routine that highlighted its uniqueness. For example, said Mitchell, the participants from Austria and some of its neighbours like Czechia had a wide range of ages represented with athletes as old as 80.
"They say that you can be well into your adulthood and still participate in this event," she said. "When you're done in your competitive career, there's still the chance to be involved with the sport of gymnastics."
As well, there were some amazing feats to see, said Mitchell.
"The kids were absolutely amazed and mesmerized by the level of difficulty. There were teams from so many countries that were just bigger than Cirque du Soleil-style routines," she said.
Tomchuk appreciated the opportunity to meet people from all over the world who do the same sport as she does.
"It's so cool to see everyone getting together and doing all the same things from so many different countries," she said. "You could instantly connect with what they're doing because you do the same thing."
A major part of how athletes fostered interaction was through trading pieces of their uniform. Tomchuk said she came away with souvenirs from all over the world.
"You'd come back with a backpack from Brazil and a T-shirt from Finland," she said. "Everyone would come up to me and ask if I wanted to trade, and I would because it was so fun."
Mitchell noted that Gymnaestrada happens every four years, with the next one in 2023 in Amsterdam. She anticipates seeing some of the same faces return, though perhaps in a different capacity.
"Through this process, our older participants will be able to lead the next group of Whistler Gymnastics athletes to the World Gymnaestrada," she said.