Updated: Jan 3, 2019
Coach Barbara May, a national level gymnast in her own right, says these young athletes have the potential to be the best in St. Albert in a few short years.
Heading for the top. That's the aim of a dynamic group of young gymnasts called the Aerials.
The four girls made a debut performance in the world of gymnastics Friday, in a demonstration at Chateau Mission Court. Coach Barbara May, a national level gymnast in her own right, says these young athletes have the potential to be the best in St. Albert in a few short years.
Kristel Busby, five; Aidan Burgess, seven; Erin Johnson, eight; and Nicole Alain, nine, form the Aerials,a pre-competitive group designed especially to develop top-level gymnasts. The girls all started out in gymnastics at the recreational level last year, and May has taken them under her wing for a more intensive program that calls for training six hours a week.
The emphasis is on physical conditioning and flexibility."It's really the most important part of training," May says. Learning different skills and moves comes later, once strength and endurance are acquired.
May, age 20, is no stranger to hard work and training herself. She competed for two years with the University of Alberta Pandas women's gymnastics team, before a recent wrist injury put an end to her competitive days. May began her gymnastics career with the St. Albert Gymnastics Club when she was 12. By age 15, she won a provincial title, taking three gold and two bronze medals. The following year, she was classified as an A level competitor, one of just two gymnasts in St. Albert to gain this distinction.
May says she may have been able to return to university competition but last year, her priorities turned to coaching. She has coached athletes at various levels in gymnastics for the past seven years, but prefers working with younger kids. Last year she was the gymnastics co-ordinator for the St. Albert club, now 250 members strong.
This year she is concentrating on coaching the Aerials. "These little girls work harder than even the top gymnasts," May says. They are dedicated, rarely miss a practice, and handle routine conditioning tasks with enthusiasm.
May tries to make conditioning fun, and with these four girls, it seems to work. Doing 50 push-ups or working on chin-ups might draw a few groans from older athletes, but these girls just take it as part of the fun of gym - and they work hard without even realizing it, May says.
"It's really fun working with them. They've all got such different personalities," May says.
One thing the girls have in common is admiration for their coach. And she has come to know them so well, she also keeps in touch with their parents on a regular basis.
"Kids sometimes look at you like an idol," May says, and that means a coach has a lot of responsibility. So she likes to stay in contact with parents and talk over what their children are thinking and feeling.
May has a five-year plan for her gymnasts. This year the Aerials will concentrate on demonstrations, gaining experience in performing in front of a crowd before they enter competitions.
"Demonstrations are very important," May says, and they can ease the pressure of the entry into competition. "In my first competition, I fell off the beam five times," she said, illustrating the stress such first time events can bring.
Following last Friday's demonstration, another will be held Thursday, Dec. 5 at the St. Albert Centre, 7:15 and 7:45 p.m. The Aerials will perform a third demonstration for parents and relatives sometime before Christmas.
May is confident the girls will do well this year. They are starting to master such moves as press handstands and will be starting pre-elite tests after Christmas. The tests are a series of requirements, especially needed if a gymnast does reach national competition.
And it wouldn't surprise May if her girls reached that goal someday. They have what May says is necessary for all good gymnasts - "incredible physical ability, and good body awareness."
Next season she hopes the Aerials will go on to a few meets and then straight to "B" level competition. "I think within a few years, these girls will be the top gymnasts in St. Albert. I have big plans for them," she says.
By Cheryl Hesse
St. Albert Gazette, Wednesday, December 4, 1985