The Ucluelet Community Centre was chock-full of enthusiastic competitiveness on Jan. 19 as the second annual Snowball Classic gymnastics tournament put the impressive athleticism of local youth on full display.
A huge turnout of both athletes and spectators reflected the vaulting popularity of the sport on the West Coast and the young gymnasts’ performances proved the competitive spirit it’s fostered is providing a profound infusion of confidence.
“It’s a great way to develop confidence in yourself. We’ve got great teachers that are helping boost the confidence of all our kids here,” Dave Hurwitz told the Westerly News while watching his daughter Daphne, 7, compete at the Classic. “Every time I come to watch these kids, they get better and better and they’ve got more and more confidence. I love it.”
Lindsay Kerdman launched the local gymnastics program two years ago and her passion for the sport quickly led to a rapidly growing number of participants.
Kerdman told the Westerly News she had moved to the West Coast from Vancouver, where she had taught gymnastics at a competitive level, and wanted to start something up in her new community.
“I thought I would just open a little after school program. I started with about nine kids in the program and now between Tofino, Ucluelet and Ahousaht, I think I have about 300 kids total,” she said. “It’s a very popular sport that lends itself to every fundamental sport: it’s spacial awareness, body awareness, strength, flexibility and coordination.”
She added gymnastics is also highly accessible, as students can practice at home without equipment.
“You can kind of do the fundamentals anywhere and then you come into the gym and you keep pushing yourself,” she said. “It’s pretty scary as well at a higher level and, I think, for a lot of kids that’s really exhilarating; the fear and then getting over that and learning new skills and constantly goal setting and achieving new things. That’s fun.”
Sunday’s Snowball Classic featured athletes ranging from 4-13 years old competing in four events: vault, bars, beam and floor, with each receiving a gold, silver or bronze medal based on their performance.
Alison Dahlie was watching her daughter Estella Wertz, 10, competing and told the Westerly she has been amazed to watch Estella consistently improving.
“Lindsay is amazing at encouraging them,” Dahlie said. “She’s brought an activity that she’s passionate about and some competition too, which I think is really good for the kids…I think the town needs that because it’s the real world and it shows them they have to try hard.”
Kevin Murray said Kerdman is a “great influence” on his eight-year-old daughter Summer.
“She gives them a positive outlook on their body and fitness,” he said.
Kerdman said she launched the inaugural Snowball Classic last year to introduce her more advanced students to the spirit of competition, but the event’s instant popularity prompted her to open it up to gymnasts of all skill levels the second time around.
“I just wanted to give the kids a reason to keep setting new goals,” she said. “You see that, as they go to each event, they are less and less nervous and, by the last event, they are beaming and proud and giggly and they don’t want it to be over.”
She said she plans to bring a group of roughly 20 West Coast gymnasts to their first out of town competition in Comox next month.
“It’s going to be a new experience for them but I want them to be really confident,” she said. “I think they’ll do well. They work really hard and they look really good.”
While Kerdman runs the program alongside four other coaches, she said it is predominantly volunteer-driven and its success has relied on the unwavering support of local parents.
“This is the most incredibly supportive team of parents I’ve ever had and I’ve taught gym for 20 years,” she said. “It’s huge because, especially in a small town like this, we don’t have a lot of equipment, we don’t have any funding. It’s a lot of the parents who help set up the gym…We don’t have external funding to pay for competitions so it’s parent run. I organize it and they execute it with me. Without their support, we wouldn’t have a program.”
Hurwitz said the parents are equally enthusiastic about Kerdman and added the West Coast is “very lucky” to have a coach like her.
“She brings a lot of passion and love and dedication to the kids,” he said.