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The Canberra girls making strides on the national gymnastics stage

Michaela McGrath

If you’ve ever tuned into the Olympics, you’ve likely been mesmerised by the impressive agility and grace of Rhythmic Gymnastics.

A collision of sport and art, Rhythmic Gymnastics is the meeting of impressive dance steps with skilful prowess in manipulating balls, ropes, ribbons, hoops and clubs. While the gymnasts’ athleticism and poise may seem otherworldly, Canberra’s very own Rhythmic Gymnastics club, Elementz, is taking the RG world by storm.

Most recently, three Elementz gymnasts took to the floor against Australia and New Zealand’s top athletes at the 2018 Australian Gymnastics Championships, after making selection for the ACT National Team.

Freya McKenzie-McHarg, Ali Mayes, and Tahlya Smith each headed to Melbourne’s Hisense Arena for Australia’s most prestigious gymnastics event in May. In the lead up to the big event, the girls trained for 20-hours each week in pursuit of their goals and dreams to rank amongst Australia’s top rhythmic gymnasts.

Demonstrating immense discipline and sacrifice as well as overwhelming talent, this year’s Nationals saw each gymnast complete impressive routines.

“It’s a huge feat on its own to gain qualification for this event and we are very proud of our three athletes,” says Elementz head coach and director, Celicia McKenzie-McHarg.

Making her debut Nationals appearance this year, Freya competed in the Pre-Junior International Division. Qualifications saw her narrowly making it through to the ball routine finals, where she flourished to secure a silver medal for the ACT with a beautiful routine on the last day of competition.

“My favourite memory from Nationals would have 100% been the finals competition and the medal ceremony,” gleams Freya, “…at this moment I knew that I deserved to be there and I could show my improvement to everyone who was watching”.

Despite her obvious successes, Freya’s sense of pride extends beyond her place on the podium. “When I think about Nationals I don’t think about my scores,” she explains, “I think about how amazing it was to actually qualify and achieve my goal”.

Freya’s feats aren’t lost on mum, Rebecca McHarg. She says, “we are thrilled she’s pursuing her dreams in a sport that’s taught her to be disciplined, resilient and self-aware”.

Making her Junior International Division debut, Ali Mayes enjoyed consistent performances during qualifications seeing her place 12th place out of 27 gymnasts. While a nerve-wracking experience, she is proud of her performance over the two days of competition.

“I love all the memories we make as a team,” says Ali.

“I also really enjoy the atmosphere with all the other talented girls at competition,” she says, “and seeing how everyone grows and improves by the end of the season”.

It’s this enjoyment and delight that makes the hefty commitment to her daughter’s sport worthwhile for Ali’s mum, Elissa. “At the end, you are happy it is over and amazed that she can compete at this level in a sport she adores, [while] manag[ing] to juggle training over 20 hours per week, and do[ing] well in school,” she says.

Rounding out the trio of impressive competitors, Tahlya Smith took to the Hisense Area for her third year competing in the National Championships. Her second year in the Junior International division proved fruitful, as Tahlya qualified for her first finals competition with her clubs routine.

“In the days before I competed at Nationals I had emotions of excitement and nerves,” says Tahlya.

“When I found out I had reached my goal of making finals [in clubs],” says Tahlya, “the excitement and nerves kicked in all over again, but overall, I was really, really proud of myself – and still am”.

Improving on her qualification score, Tahlya performed a clean and expressive routine to place fifth in the clubs final. Pleased with her achievements, Tahlya is looking forward to what’s still to come in her budding Rhythmic Gymnastics journey. “Now I am training hard for Nationals 2019 and will be learning two new routines,” she beams, “which is really exciting as I get new music and leotards”.

This sense of pride extends beyond the individual gymnasts to encompass the sense of comradery shared across the entire ACT team. For Tahlya’s mum, Chae, Nationals is a time of immense excitement and pride for all of the girls taking their routines to Melbourne.

“I can’t put into words how proud we are as parents,” she says, “funnily enough that pride extends beyond just your child”.

“The ACT RG team is so amazingly close that we have almost the same feelings for each gymnast that competes,” she explains.

A highlight of the RG calendar, the National Championships are just one of many incredible experiences extended to Elementz’ athletes by the sport. The club regularly travels interstate for competitions, training camps, and other opportunities, with last year seeing them jet set to Italy for an intensive eight-day training camp in Barzio.

Freya, Ali and Tahlya’s achievements on the national stage serve as a microcosm for the hard work and successes of Canberra’s thriving Rhythmic Gymnasts. Of course, the girls’ successes don’t come without sacrifice. Each gymnast demonstrates immense commitment and dedication to their goals, putting in hours upon hours of training each week.

As Elementz is the single only Rhythmic Gymnastics dedicated club in Canberra, the team is often required to travel interstate to compete against other clubs, with the costs quickly adding up.

“Rhythmic Gymnastics is relatively unknown to the public and is heavily underexposed and under-funded compared to other sports, and even to Artistic Gymnastics,” says Celicia.

Elementz offer a range of sponsorship options for anyone who is interested in supporting and/or sponsoring the gymnasts, for more information contact Celicia here.

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Michaela McGrath

Michaela is a New Zealand born Australian currently based in Adelaide. Spending her childhood in Canberra’s north, she regularly travels east to the nation’s capital to visit family and friends. An avid foodie, Michaela is thrilled to see Canberra’s thriving hospitality scene continue to unfold. She is in her final semester of a Bachelor of Media with a major in Journalism at the University of Adelaide, and is an aspiring food and lifestyle writer with a passion for all things local. When she’s not busy writing her next piece, you’ll find Michaela on the hunt for the next place to grab a caffeine fix or whipping up a storm in the kitchen. More about the Author

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