Rhythmic gymnastics offered me an artistic channel to harness my intense determination and love for movement. The feeling of nailing a skill or a routine was exhilarating. To finish a routine at competition, knowing that it was the best that I could do, was incomparable. Even through the bad times I was still hooked and I wanted desperately to get that feeling back.
From Individual, to Group, and back again
In 2012, after my horrible year competing individually internationally, I was given the opportunity to represent New Zealand as part of a Senior International group.
Group rhythmic gymnastics involves five athletes competing on the floor at once. Groups perform two routines, one with all of the same apparatus (such as five balls) and one referred to as the 3+2 (such as three ribbons and two hoops). Group gymnasts do exchanges, collaborations, risks, difficulties and masteries, sometimes in spectacular synchronisation.
The best part was, the group consisted of my five best gymnastics friends, and we went global! We travelled to Europe together, competing in France and training in Bulgaria. The six of us literally sprinted to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris and then still had the energy to do gymnastics jumps, splits and walkovers on the ground afterward. If only I had that fitness now! 😉
Competing in the group grew my confidence and the group girls continue to be some of my closest friends. The six of us even auditioned for New Zealand’s Got Talent and had a blast making it onto national television.
New Zealand Senior International Group, competing at Nationals 2012 (Cheyenne aged 16). Video shows Ruth Lever, Hannah Byers, Amberley Tancock and Katherine Paton – Gabriella Chan as reserve for this routine.
I also had time to compete as an individual as a Level 10 rather than in the international program that had nearly broken me the year before. The relaxed environment worked wonders and I won several medals at New Zealand Nationals, meaning that I earned a spot in the Senior International finals.
My confidence got a much-needed boost from my strong performance at Nationals and I felt ready to make the leap back to competing internationally individually.
Preparing for group competition in Calais, France, 2012 (aged 15)
In 2013 there were an abnormally large amount of Senior International gymnasts from my club – six of us. Of course I was the most inexperienced of all of us, having only started gymnastics at age 12. You can train as hard as you want but you can’t get back lost time.
I figured if I couldn’t ever match up to my competitors’ length of time in the sport, I could beat them through other avenues. Perhaps my skills weren’t on par but I could become ‘the best’ at working hard.
I dug deep into my willpower and trained to excess in attempt to level up with the others. We were training approximately 28 hours a week but in addition to this, I would go for runs and exercise at the gym too.
I started obsessively restricting what I ate. I wrote down every morsel that touched my lips and weighed myself multiple times a day. I shrunk to 48kgs and considering that was mostly lean muscle mass, I became very thin and my behaviours were extremely unhealthy. In a sport where thinner = better, I was trying to compete on the only frontier that I thought I had a chance in.
My motto became: “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard”
I would repeat this to myself every time I became frustrated, which was a regular occurrence. Gymnastics consumed my every decision. My eating was regimented, I slept at the proper time, rarely socialised, didn’t party, didn’t drink and exercised outside of training time. I even chose to study at university by distance learning so I could keep training, causing me to miss out on all of the normal fun that university entails.
Yet my manic work ethic cause me to significantly improve and I no longer ranked last, even competing in Australia, Singapore and Hungary and training in Russia.
Competing in Singapore as a Senior International, 2013 (aged 17)
2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games
The Commonwealth Games is an international multi-sport event involving athletes from the Commonwealth of Nations. Three gymnasts were supposed to be selected for Rhythmic Gymnastics to represent New Zealand. As the 6th ranked gymnast in the country, there wasn’t much hope for me.
The rigorous 28 hour plus per week training leading up to the selection encouraged internal rivalry and stress for many. Even though I didn’t make the team, I improved exponentially due to the intense selection season, also competing in Las Vegas and Los Angeles.
Regardless of not being selected for the Commonwealth Games, I had a successful Nationals competing clean routines and I achieved a few 5th placings which improved my ranking.
Our club also got a new coach from Spain, who I instantly clicked with. As well as having incredible technical knowledge, she emphasised the importance of having fun and loving gymnastics – a concept that oddly hadn’t really been addressed to me before.
At the end of the exhausting Commonwealth Games selection season I cut down my hours of training slightly, which allowed for more free time. I became more relaxed and gymnastics was no longer all consuming. I did well in university and maintained an A average. I had a great summer, working at my first job and spending time with my then boyfriend, and gymnastics was not the only focus, though still top priority.
I was happy, but little did I know what would happen next.
Competing at a local Auckland competition, Senior International, 2014 (aged 18)
Stay tuned for Part III The Finale, coming soon.