Gymnastics club continues rebuilding

The Polarettes Gymnastics Club has done a bit of a pirouette over the last year. After longtime head coach Kelly Mock left in May after 10 years, the club was forced to search for a replacement. The search ended in St. John's...

The Polarettes Gymnastics Club has done a bit of a pirouette over the last year.

After longtime head coach Kelly Mock left in May after 10 years, the club was forced to search for a replacement.

The search ended in St. John’s, Newfoundland, where they found level-three coach Jenn Ryan, who took the reins in August.

“We’ve got a lot of new staff—and Jenn came in—and another coach came back who has coached in a long time,” said Polarettes coach and head co-ordinator Catherine O’Donovan. “So it’s kind of a transition year.”

“Just this summer I finished off all three components, technical, practical and theory of level of three, just before I came up,” said Ryan. “To go to Canada Games you need level three.”

In addition to bringing in Ryan, the club is intending to increase the quality of coaching available to them. At the end of February, two of the club’s athletes are travelling to Surrey, BC, for a meet, while there two of the club’s coaches will take the test to get their level two coaching certification.

“It provides greater knowledge on spotting athletes and overall greater knowledge on how to teach kids skills,” said Shaun Porter, one of the two coaches heading south.

A former competitive athlete who retired to coach after sustaining a back injury, Porter earned a ranking of sixth in Western Canada and attended the Nationals in 2004.

“I was injured, so it was a bad competition,” said Porter. “I had to retire afterwards.”

The year-round club holds three recreational clinics over the school season and a camp during the summer and at any given time has roughly 200 members, including 30 competitive athletes.

“In the mornings we’ll do three hours of gymnastics and in the afternoons we try to do different activities,” said Ryan of the summer program. “We’ve taken them bowling and swimming.”

“We do fieldtrips and biking trips,” added O’Donovan. “Every week is a theme week, there’s Olympics week or superhero week or wild week. That’s our big money maker to allow us the rest of the year to do the competitive and recreational.”

The club, which is located next to Vanier Catholic Secondary School in Riverdale, has a surprisingly large variety of patrons who are not necessarily members. Daycares rent the gym a few times a week and during the weekend the gym can be rented for parties.

“You kind of need to call two months in advance,” said Ryan. “Because we’re booked for February now.”

For those less dedicated to gymnastics or just want give the sport a shot, Polarettes also has two drop-in periods each week.

Sunday’s drop-in is designated for parents with children under nine and on Wednesdays O’Donovan does a teen drop-in for those 14 and up.

“Mostly we have snowboarders and break-dancers,” said O’Donovan. “And then we have the odd person who comes to actually do gymnastics.”

The Freestyle skiing club occasionally comes in Thursday to learn gymnastic techniques they can incorporate into their skiing routines.

“Dry-land training is what they call it,” said O’Doonovan. “To improve their skiing and stuff they’ll do conditioning.

“The Special Olympics has rented us out before for the same idea.”

Furthermore, schools are welcome to rent out the gym during the day.

“Either Catherine or I will be there and we’ll do a lesson with them,” said Ryan. “We had a math class in (from Vanier next door) and the teacher said you need to get this score and we’ll take you to the gym. So it was kind of a little reward for them.”

According to both coaches, gymnastics gives athletes an advantage in whichever sport they choose.

“Gymnastics is a sport that’s the basis for everything else,” said Ryan. “It gives you a good background in body-awareness, it trains all your fundamentals for any other sport. Especially if you’ve done it at a competitive level, you can go into any other sports and your just that little bit ahead.

“My niece is six and my sister is like, ‘I’m not going to put her in gymnastics because she’s not co-ordinated enough.’ (So I said,) ‘That’s why you have to put her in there.’”

“What I like about the sports (in the Yukon) is that if you’ve been around long enough you know any kids in competitive sports,” said O’Donovan. “So many kids have been through the gymnastics gym that have gone on to nationals in skiing or running—you name it, I’ve taught them before. It’s really nice to see.”

Besides the two boys heading to Surrey, 10 girls from Polarettes will be travelling to Sherwood Park, Alberta, to compete at the Jurassic Classic in early March. As an affiliate of British Columbia Gymnastics, the club also holds aspirations to send a handful of gymnasts down to the BC Championships April 17-19.

Contact Tom Patrick at