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Tumbling for success

Thursday April 26, 2012
Sarah Mickelson with her moves on the balance beam. Her coach says Sarah’s personality and excitement keeps him and the rest of the team going.

Photo Adrienne Fox - Special to Wawatay News
Jeiyd Sedgwick gets way up high during her balance beam training.

Photo Adrienne Fox - Special to Wawatay News
Keisha Cutfeet practices a safe version of the balance beam.

Photo Adrienne Fox - Special to Wawatay News
River Fox shows off the incredible flexibility needed for gymnastics sucess.

Photo Adrienne Fox - Special to Wawatay News

The space is cavernous – filled with every imaginable piece of equipment to make aspiring gymnasts stronger, more agile and graceful. The Claydon Building in Thunder Bay is a second home for the four girls practicing today. It’s a Sunday afternoon. And River Fox has just completed a few hours of cheerleading training. Now she’s facing four hours of rigorous gymnastics training.

But the hours she spends pushing her 14-year-old body to its physical limits leaves her feeling accomplished and healthy.

“Gymnastics is my life. I’ve been in it since I was six.”

And she knows her mother Leona Morris is proud of her.

“There aren’t many Aboriginal people who do this,” she says.

Her mother agrees.

“She works out 12 hours a week on top of school.”

Funding River’s sporting aspirations can be a challenge, says Morris.

The Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug member says she’s grateful her community was able to help with River’s fees, which can be about $3,000 per year. That leaves Morris to pay for transportation costs that include hotel bills and food.

But more important, Morris is proud of her daughter.

“She’s very dedicated and devoted to her sports.

“This is not only positive for her physical well-being but also her emotional and mental well-being. She is more confident because when she sees a future goal for herself, she pushes herself to work towards it.”

Encouraging healthy lifestyles

That’s a sentiment also expressed by Pauline Mickelson, the mother of 13-year-old Sarah Mickelson – a Grade 8 student at Woodcrest Public School in Thunder Bay.

“My daughter Sarah is very special,” her mother says affectionately.

“She is talented. She is athletic. She has amazing spirit. She’s very compassionate. And she’s passionate about stuff she believes in.”

Mickelson says it’s important to encourage children to be strong individuals. She believes encouragement helps enrich cultural identity.

“I don’t want to lose my daughter to a lifestyle where she could get hurt.

“I want her to be a healthy strong woman. And I want her to live well, to have a good life.”
Mickelson says her daughter sets an example for Aboriginal people by modeling healthy lifestyle through participation in sports.

And when she watches her daughter compete, Mickelson is almost at a loss for words to describe her feelings of joy.

“I’m just so happy for her. I’m happy that she gets to enjoy what she’s doing.”
When Sarah placed first overall in a recent competition for her age group, Mickelson said she couldn’t have been more proud.

Her daughter, Sarah, has pride too. “I’m growing muscle now,” she giggles.

But what she enjoys above all else is being able to share a sport with a group of girls who are fun to be with. “No one fights here. There’s no drama.”

Confidence and fun

Her father Ed Mickelson is in awe of his daughter’s physical capabilities.

“It’s hard work when you watch the girls train. It’s physically demanding. I’ve been playing sports my whole life but that type of training, forget about it,” he quips. “It would kill me – have the ambulance outside.”

It’s those physical demands that push 15-year-old Jeiyd Sedgwick to face her fears.
“I used to be terrified of going backwards on the balance beam,” she shares.

“But I started getting more confident and less scared of it as I learned more skills.

“Once you learn, it’s more fun. I can do back walkovers and cartwheels and pretty much anything I can do on my floor routine I can do on beam now.”

More support needed

Jeiyd’s mother is hoping her daughter’s love of gymnastics will entice communities to show more support for the artistic sport.

“There’s a lot of opportunity there to support people around hockey – the more mainstream sport. But there’s a high prevalence of people in corrections with mental health issues who have no interest in those kinds of sports and do better if they have opportunities to express their creativity … who they are. There’s no support for that.”

Sedgwick works for Ministry of Children and Youth Services Ontario.

Jeiyd’s father agrees.

Allan Brown is a member of Wapekeka.

He says First Nations need to support their young athletes.

“I think it’s very important that we support these kids in the sport they want to pursue.
“We have ways to support them whether it’s financially or we show our First Nations kids that we care about them. It’s important we show them.”

While Jeiyd loves the balance beam, another member of the Sunday afternoon gymnasts group loves hurtling her tiny body through the air on the uneven bars.

Keisha Cutfeet is 11 and also a member of Kitchenuhmaykoosib.

“I like everything about it,” she smiles. “The jumping, the twirling.” And she appreciates the support she gets from her family. “They really like what I do and they encourage me to do better.”

Cutfeet also placed first all round in her age group during a March 24 invitational competition held in Thunder Bay.

Debbie Barrett is Keisha’s grandmother. “She has a joyful disposition. She’s happy all the time so she approaches everything with enthusiasm.”

And Barrett says her job is to make sure Keisha has the things she needs to keep doing what she loves doing.

“And stay excited with her in what she’s doing.

Four talented, special girls

Mike Lang coaches the girls.

All girls compete in levels 2-5, which are just a few levels down from provincial levels – a bit higher quality gymnastics.

“Some are definitely aspiring to that,” Lang says of the girl’s abilities. “They just have to work on cleaning up like keeping their legs straight.”

He says River excels when it comes to flexibility. “She has very long legs and she looks very beautiful when she keeps them straight.”

But that can also be her biggest challenge, Lang explains because those long legs are also the first thing judges see during competition. “So if they’re bent, it’s very noticeable.”

Lang says Keisha is dynamic and powerful. “She tumbles very quick and she’s a very good vaulter.”

And Jeiyd uses her determination and drive to push herself hard. “She’s very competitive,” he says.

“And with Sarah, her personality is just off the wall.” Lang says Sarah keeps him going because she’s so excitable.

“She really makes me want to coach more.”

The girls and their families will be in Sioux Lookout April 28 to compete then in Ottawa June 1 for the season’s final big meet.


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