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Gymnasts spring into Winter Games

Sixteen-year-old Meghan Rodger spits into her hands and then sets her determined gaze on the uneven bars before her.

Sixteen-year-old Meghan Rodger spits into her hands and then sets her determined gaze on the uneven bars before her.

The saliva should give her a firmer grip on the springy wooden beams, or so the slender gymnast hopes.

Rodger steps forward, grabs the bar and begins her routine, gracefully swinging and leaping between the bars with the ease of a practiced performer.

After a final swing over the bar, Rodger makes a flip and nails her landing with both feet firmly planted on the mat.

Apparently, spit is the young gymnast’s secret weapon heading into next week’s Canada Winter Games.

There, Rodger will join four other female athletes — Sierra Palamar, 15, Anna Rivard, 13, Gina Sparling, 15, Aletta Leitch, 15 — on Yukon’s women’s team.

The quintet will vie for medals in four Games’ events: the vault, the uneven bars, the balance beam and the floor competition.

At the beginning of the week they’ll compete as a group. After that, they’ll contend one on one.

A few of the teens sport braces on their knees and arms, a testament to team’s hard training and the toll the sport takes on the human body.

“I definitely want to go on in the sport, but I don’t know if my body can take it,” says Rodger, wearing a brace for the knee she hyper-extended while tumbling on the floor.

The team has been training hard for the past couple years preparing for the big event.

“They’ve practised 18 hours a week for the past two years,” says coach Kelly Mock, in between shouting words of advice and encouragement to the athletes practicing their skills nearby.

On top of practices, the Yukon athletes have been to competitions in BC and Dallas, Texas, so they have become accustomed to being evaluated for their performances.

“The competition is going to be very difficult. They’ll be national team members there and people who will be representing Canada in the next Olympics,” adds Mock.

“I think we can do pretty good on the team if we all pull ourselves together on that day,” says Palamar.

“I think it’s going to be really amazing, I’m really excited,” adds Rodger.

“I don’t think we’ll do excessively well compared to the other girls because they’re going to be amazing,” she says.

Despite Rodger’s skills on the bars, her favourite event is the balance beam, which stands 125 centimetres above the ground.

“It’s really scary, but it’s just fun at the same time,” she says with a smile.

Her favourite move is an aerial — a cartwheel with no hands — on the beam.

“I’ve fallen a hundred times and I’m scared of it, but it’s fun,” she says during a practice on Tuesday afternoon.

“My favourite one is floor,” says Palamar after finishing a routine full of leaps, twists and somersaults on the gym’s springy floor.

“I like how you get to dance and show-off, it’s fun,” she adds.

The hard work has brought the team’s technical skills on par with other athletes across the country and brought the teens closer together as friends.

“We’re all best friends. We have sleepovers every weekend,” says Palamar.

Aerobic gymnastics is slotted for the second week of the Games and will take place at the Canada Games Centre.