Chelsea, Quebec gymnast turning and twisting heads

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by admin on January 18, 2013

Gymnast Sophie Shaver pulls a double pike at a practice in Gatineau. Photo by Trevor Greenway of the Low Down

It’s another Monday in January, and Sophie Shaver is headed straight for her usual afternoon schoolwork. But there are no desks, chairs or books nor the usual math equations scrawled across the chalkboard in this classroom.

They’ve been replaced by floor-to-ceiling windows that sprinkle light across the many bars, mats and springboards spread out across the vast open gym at the Centre Sportif in Gatineau. It’s in this class where Shaver is starting to earn straight A’s.

The 10-year-old gymnastics phenom from Chelsea won five-out-of-five gold medals at a regional tournament this past weekend to earn a spot on the Outaouais team at the Quebec Games this spring.

“It’s fun,” says Shaver modestly before reaching for a handful of medals from backpack. She breaks a wide, proud smile that she can’t subdue; her eyes are fixed on the golden hardware shuffling through her fingers.

“It feels good,” she adds, the energy buzz from her initial first-place finish at the national novice level very much evident.

It’s been a breakout year for the young tumbler who’s been turning heads since she was just four. She now competes – and wins – against girls three years her senior.

But even though the recent five-for-five sweep is impressive, Shaver’s work is only beginning. Her big test will come in February, when she competes at the Elite Canada Gymnastics Championships in Edmonton, and she’s putting every last bit of energy into preparing for the big meet.

“There’s no reason why you shouldn’t be landing that, Shaver,” shouts coach Dave Fallon, watching from the sidelines at the Gatineau gym, as Shaver works to perfect an aerial routine on the bars. After a few missteps and a fall, Shaver finally nails it.

It’s this get-up-and-try-again and again and again attitude that has advanced Shaver’s rapid development. She spends 25 hours a week practising and even more time competing on weekends. She leaves Chelsea Elementary School in the afternoons to focus on the gymnastics, and the school has arranged her academic schedule to make it all work.

And, believe it or not, Shaver also plays competitive hockey on the Atom B Des Collines hockey team. She’s the only girl on the squad and recently earned promotion to one of the top centre roles. She’s a kid who excels at nearly everything she tries.

“She has a spark and we just keep feeding the fire,” says Fallon. “I would rather have a kid with a good attitude than skill, but Sophie has both.”

Fallon, who has been Shaver’s coach since she was six, said an important element that has helped his charge succeed is the support she has at home from her ex-ski racing parents, Tara and Scott Shaver.

And perhaps just as impressive as how many times Sophie Shaver can flip through the air is the amount of driving her mother does during any given week. Besides Sophie, there are three siblings who also play hockey and compete in gymnastics.

“I make this drive about 2,000 times a year,” says Tara Shaver.

During the few hours she spent with this Low Down staffer, she had picked up her oldest son, Jack, from hockey, grabbed Sophie from Chelsea Elementary, dropped her daughter off at the gym and later took Jack to see a physiotherapist.

It’s just par for the course in the Shaver household; they’re lucky to wedge in a sit-down dinner with the whole family once a week.

“We’re busy, but we love it. We love sports,” said Shaver.

The kids seem to love it, too. Anyone can ask Sophie Shaver about twirling through the air at the Olympic Games and they’ll come anyone convinced that she’s determined to do what it takes.

After sticking some good landings at the Elite Canada competition, Shaver could find herself competing in front of a home crowd in Ottawa this May at the national championships.

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