Saturday, October 25, 2014

Stinson able to conquer grief to earn worlds berth

It really wasn’t fair for the rest of the provinces participating in Canadian Gymnaestrada last week in Calgary.
Not when they were going up against a Team Saskatchewan lineup that featured 70 competitors and one guardian angel.

Fort Frances native and current Saskatoon resident Vicki Stinson was a part of the squad that was equal parts agility and elegance in earning a trip to the 15th World Gymnaestrada next July in Helsinki, Finland.
It takes courage to perform on a national stage.
But that was even moreso in this case for Stinson, who held the hand of her 93-year-old grandmother, Vergil, as she passed away in Fort Frances only two days before the event.
“I was definitely doing this for Gram and I think that helped me perform better,” declared Stinson, who returned home late last week for the funeral content in knowing she had done her grandmother proud.
“Her and her brother did gymnastics in the Shevlin woodpiles as kids growing up, doing handsprings off of the logs,” Stinson said.
“I grew up hearing those stories. I know Gram was there to support us.”
Stinson and the rest of the Prairie Ribbons Rhythmic Gymnastics Club in Saskatoon combined forces with three clubs from Regina as they took on close to 1,000 other gymnasts from across Canada.
“The first day, we got to practice at the University of Calgary, which had an actual rhythmic gymnastics gym,” she noted.
“That was a nice luxury being that when our team gets together to practice on weekends in Saskatchewan, the only places that can hold 70 of us are regular high school gymnasiums, which are not as well-equipped as you would like.
“We got a standing ovation from the crowd gathered just to watch our practice so we knew we were on to something good,” Stinson added.
Later that day, Team Saskatchewan held its first public performance and drew rave reviews from their head coach.
“They said it was our best performance yet,” Stinson beamed.
“The routines usually last anywhere between seven and 15 minutes, and most of the other teams were doing 15 minutes, but we kept ours to seven,” she added.
“Our strategy was to show we could do a perfect seven-minute routine and hope that proved to Gymnastics Canada that in the next year, we could add another seven or eight perfect minutes so that we will have a full 15-minute routine ready for worlds,” Stinson remarked.
“We were going for quality over quantity.”
On the second day, participants were encouraged by event organizers to don creative makeup and hairstyles for their performances, with Team Saskatchewan then getting to play its ace in the hole.
“One of our coach’s sisters is a hairstylist who designs our styles for us and then teaches us to do it ourselves,” Stinson explained.
“It was pretty intense in the preparation area, with 10 people helping with hair and 10 more doing makeup.
“The boys needed help with theirs,” she chuckled.
Team Saskatchewan staged two solid performances, but the confidence level as to whether they had done well enough to advance to the worlds varied throughout the team members.
“The veterans who have been to two different worlds before thought we had it but us newbies were still a little nervous,” admitted Stinson.
Then word came down that Team Saskatchewan had been chosen to perform the finale of the closing ceremonies the following day—a sure sign Finland and a date with 30,000 other gymnasts from around the globe was in their future.
“There were 70 of us and the coaches screaming and hollering and clapping and shouting,” recalled Stinson.
“When it’s just you and you find out you’ve done well, it’s already pretty exciting,” she noted.
“When there’s that many people, it’s even better.”
The good news carried the team through a busy Canada Day, which saw them do one indoor performance, another one outdoors as part of Canada Day festivities in Calgary, and then the finale.
“We were prepared through our training camp for such a busy day . . . otherwise, it would have been pretty hard on us old fogies,” Stinson laughed.
When the concluding move had been executed in the finale, and the last bar of music faded away, Team Saskatchewan was given another standing ovation.
“It felt incredible to be waving to the audience and the other athletes knowing what we had achieved,” Stinson said.
“Did I ever think when I started in this sport that one day I would be going to a world championship? Absolutely not,” she admitted.
“I started participating in gymnastics because I loved it and still do.
“It’s a difficult sport for me, but it’s a great feeling of accomplishment having worked so hard to get to this point,” she added.
Stinson already is getting prepared for her cross-Atlantic journey next summer.
“I have a couple of friends who are Finnish, so I’m going to practice my bad Finnish on them,” she joked.

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