A growing discipline in BC, acrobatic (acro) gymnastics is a breathtaking sport that requires extreme concentration, trust and precision as gymnasts toss each other through the air while performing multiple flips and twists.
At Kelowna Gymnastix, the acro program led by Shawna DeLeske has been making waves across the Canadian acro scene. Leading the pack are a newly formed Junior Elite trio made up of bases Emily (16) and Kristen (17), and top Junelle (14).
All three girls started off in artistic gymnastics programs, but found themselves to be better suited for acrobatic gymnastics. They currently train 22 hours a week together.
GymBC had the pleasure of connecting with this trio over Zoom last month, and they were happy to share some of their experiences, insights and goals with us.
What does a typical training session look like?
ALL: Typically, we go through warm-up and conditioning, followed by stretching. We then move on to either our balance or dynamic elements and routines, and then switch to the next category. Some of the portions are done separately – when we train these, we integrate each other into the skills and drills, and spot each other.
Everything you do looks like it requires an immense amount of trust. How do you develop and maintain that?
Junelle: I’ve been training with Emily for almost four years, so the trust with her is pretty solid. Kristen joined our group more recently, but there’s a lot of trust that’s already been developed over this time! I trust them with my life (literally). I’d say I have more trust issues with myself then with my bases.
Kristen: Being consistent at keeping each other safe is so important – it’s easy to start off trusting someone, but hard to build that trust back once it’s broken.
Junelle: We get all of our new skills solid in a spotting belt first. The first skill out of the belt is the scariest for me – my trust is in that belt..!
Emily: The first one is always the scariest. As bases, we need to make sure we never show Junelle that we’re scared! We make sure we’re really ready to do a skill before we take it out of the belt. We also have lots of spotters, so it’s pretty unlikely for something to go really wrong.
Kristen: We also do lots of fall training. We do things with apparatus that imitate how you would fall out of a skill, and practice the safest way to fall out of each one. We do as many reps as needed to drill it into muscle memory.
What has been your most memorable experience as a group so far?
ALL: We recently went to training camp in California, which was a really wonderful experience! We got our choreography done early (it’s usually done in October) by Arthur Davis, who is a world renowned choreographer.
What are your main goals for the year?
E: We have some major competitions coming up this year. I’d like to hit clean and solid routines at all of them!
K: My goals used to be centered around physical milestones. This year, my perspective has changed to pushing and improving myself and doing things that are challenging. Similar to Emily – I’d like to hit clean routines and feel good about what we’re putting on the competition floor.
J: As a top, my challenges often stem from managing pressure and the stress on my body. My biggest goal is to have a good attitude throughout the season! It’s really easy to want to give up, so I’m going to focus on maintaining a good mindset and attitude, so that my bases and Shawna don’t have to deal with any tantrums (:D)
Do you have any pre-competition rituals – whether individually or collectively – to get yourselves in the right headspace before an event?
E: Shawna always gives our team a Lays potato chip beforehand. Something about the saltiness that makes the mouth water … at this point it’s become more of a tradition. Usually it’s Original flavored.
J: I rewatch routines and use training videos to visualize.
K: Competitions are always loud, so I put in headphones and run through the music
Has acro taught you any valuable life skills?
J: Communication. A lot of tops don’t give corrections to bases. It took me while to get here, to know and feel what I need for a skill. Now if something is uncomfortable, I will vocalize it.
E: Patience. Being patient with trio, coach, etc. At first, it’s hard to be around the same people for that amount of time.
J: Yes, patience! We have a junior team, some of them are little 6 year olds. When we help Shawna out, you need patience to get them to focus and listen.
K: Communication. Being able to confidently express my thoughts. Not just with my group, but also with coaches. It’s important to talk to them, tell them what you need, and have one another as support.
Given how often and closely you train together, are there times when you don’t get along? How do you overcome that?
E: Oh, we definitely get annoyed with each other sometimes! But for the most part we get along pretty well.
J: We see each other more as siblings, but overall there’s no ‘Dance Moms’ level drama. I like that we can be honest, and tell each other if someone’s being annoying!
K: It’s totally closer to a family relationship more than a friendship. When we get annoyed with one another, it feels like sibling rivalry.
What would you like people to know about acro?
J: It’s different from artistic – in acro, you can be weird. It’s a weird sport! I can be weird or silly, and don’t feel like I’ll be judged for it.
E: That you build friendships with other teams around the world. In artistic, I stayed mostly with my team at events, but in acro, everyone talks to each other
K: Acro is a close-knit community. You develop friendships within your gym, with other gyms, and across the world – these are friendships you would otherwise never have had the opportunity to make. It’s been really great to see acro growing in Canada.
The trio has their sights set on the Maia International Acro Cup in Portugal in March 2023. Please join us in wishing them the best of luck, and a fantastic season!
At the end of our conversation, we had the group answer some fun ‘Most Likely To’ questions – check our their answers in the image above, along with training clips and photos of them through the years in the sport in the media galleries below.
To find out more about acrobatic gymnastics in BC, please visit the Acro Program page: https://gymbc.org/acrobatic-2/.
Information on Acro in Canada can be found on Gymnastics Canada’s website: http://www.gymcan.org/disciplines/acrobatic.