Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Kanata Rhythmic Rewind: KRSG puts a twist on season-ending honours with special character awards

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By Ottawa Sports Pages, for Kanata Rhythmic Gymnastics Club

Sports fans know that the end of the season means it’s awards time – MVP, top goal scorer and championship titles are among the classic honours. The Kanata Rhythmic Gymnastics Club does it a little differently though – KRSG holds a gala recognizing its athletes for their exceptional character attributes.

Commitment, perseverance, respect and positivity are among the most treasured traits, and the big prize is the Dasa Lelli Character Plate.

Earning this year’s Plate, named in honour of KRSG’s club founder who brought the sport to Eastern Ontario in 1975, was Evangelia Sarlis.

“She’s had an incredible journey,” shares KRSG head coach Yuliana Korolyova. “Evangelia started as an interclub gymnast and really fell in love with the sport. She didn’t start that young, I think she’d been in dance before, and after a couple years of interclub, she wanted to try provincial, so we gave her a chance.

“Two years later, she became a provincial champion, and then she was on to the national level. Now, she’s still developing very nicely, she’s a university student at Ottawa U and she is continuing with both gym and school, so she’s definitely using her great character skills to be able to manage both.

“She allows herself to really understand the setbacks, to feel it but not fight with it, and bounce back up and keep going – step back and push forward and get stronger every time.

“It was really nice to honour one of our gymnasts, and to honour Dasa and all her values. And also to honour all of our gymnasts for their own special characteristics.

“I almost prefer those events over the competitions. It’s really positive and it highlights the real human skills.”

Sarlis stood out within a club full of athletes who excel in sport and in their studies. Fellow 2024 national championships competitor Selena Pang, who earned a coveted Schulich Leader Scholarship towards her future computer science university studies, is another prime example.

“I think it’s the tools that they’re building year after year” that allows KRSG gymnasts to excel in sport and school, Korolyova indicates. “Many start at the club at a young age, sometimes it’s four or five. There is a lot of dedication from both the families and the coaches.

“All the skills that they learn in the sport, it really gives them all the tools necessary to be successful in school. It’s the time management, it’s the commitment and dedication, it’s sitting down and doing your work when you don’t feel like it because it needs to get done. It builds that inner strength.

“And we have a wonderful group of coaches who help the girls and support them along the way. Sometimes the motivation may not be there if they’re feeling tired, so the coaches can help them stay positive and keep an eye on their goals.

“We have a lot of our graduates who have been extremely successful in their post-secondary studies, and so many of them have returned to the club and they want to give back by coaching or helping out. That’s really nice to see.”

The focus at KRSG is always on character-building above results, but for some members, reaching the podium is part of their goals too. Fiona Tong and Emily Zhang did just that at the June 14-16 Ontario Championships in Markham, earning silver and bronze medals in the Level 5C and 6B competitions respectively.

“Every day, these two girls, they’re in high school, and then after school, they are really putting in the effort, they’re training taking all the corrections and feedback from the coaches seriously, writing it down and working on it on a daily basis,” Korolyova highlights. “They’re really attentive students of the sport, and they also help as coaches-in-training, so they really immerse themselves in the club. I think that has played a big role in their success.”

On the way to their provincial prizes came a championships qualifying event, which was hosted by KRSG at the University of Ottawa in March.

“That really built the team spirit in the club,” signals Korolyova, who also enjoyed avoiding out-of-town travel for competition. “It was just a very good energy. We loved hosting the whole province of Ontario in our gym, and we definitely owe a big thank you to all the parents and volunteers for coming together and putting on a really successful event. It wouldn’t have been possible without them.”

The club also treasured having another major event close to home when the Canadian Championships were held in Gatineau. Young gymnasts turned out in droves to cheer on the KRSG contingent of Sarlis, Pang, Silvia Yu, Leann Situ and Keira Agnew, with Agnew and Pang both recording top-10 finishes in the senior high-performance division.

“We had a whole crew and I think they were the loudest bunch,” Korolyova recounts. “It was so good for them to see the best gymnasts in Canada, and knowing that two of the best in high-performance are actually from their club. They really look up to them.”

Right after competing at Canadians, the national gymnasts turned their attention to crafting their section of the club’s stage performance of Aladdin. KRSG senior coach Breanna Rich led the season finale show, which included gymnasts from the recreational level up to the national stars.

“It was great. Everybody loved it,” Korolyova notes. “According to the parents, it gets better every year, and we learn more each time, so we’ll definitely keep doing it in the future.”

Although many season highlights have passed, there are still several to look forward to. KRSG will host an open house from 10:30 a.m.-noon on Saturday, June 21 in the gym at Bridlewood Elementary School. It will feature free performances from gymnasts of all levels, including the Kanata Sapphires aesthetic group gymnastics team’s last presentation on home soil before coach Irina Shivrina brings them to Spain for the World Cup and Challenge Cup from June 27-30, which is certain to offer another memorable life experience.

“I think we’ve had a very successful season overall,” Korolyova underlines. “The gymnasts put in a lot of work. We saw a lot of development from when they started in September, and that’s really what’s most important.

“We try to accent that it’s not so much about achieving a certain outcome as it is about having that goal. It’s about the journey and who they’re becoming while working towards that goal.”

To find out more about the Kanata Rhythmic Gymnastics Club, visit KRSG.org.

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