We had the good fortune of sitting down with Léonie (pronounced sort of like Lay-in-ee or Lé-n-ee) Solomons, fourteen, at the Garden City Invitational. She’s a Falcon Gymnastics team member. After our interview, she would go on to win Gold AA, Silver on Bars and Bronze on Floor! She told us about life as a gymnast in a family of athletes. She has just returned from Kelowna where she was competing in the Ogopogo Invitational.
So how long have you been doing gymnastics for?
I’m fourteen and I started when I was four.
It seems like a big commitment. Is it?
Sundays can be a struggle. We get up early and start training and go ’till the early afternoon. We also train Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. So, four times a week. I go straight from school. Sometimes there’s a lot of activity. Evenings are also four hours so we’re training sixteen hours a week.
Summer is the off season, and we do cardio and cross training. My cardio is not the best (laughs). Floor routines are a minute and a half, so it’s more of a sprint.
Who is going to win this weekend?
I don’t know! Am I supposed to say Falcon? [laughs] This is our home court and we sleep in our own beds. So we do very well at this event. I don’t want to brag too much. When we’re competing away, like in Langley or Vancouver, then it’s more complicated. It takes extra time finding our way to the event, and the sleeping and eating routine is different, so it’s harder, and everything matters. There is a mental side to gymnastics. We do our best to stay focussed!
What are your events?
I do all four events: Beam, Floor, Vault and Uneven Bars. Unless you’re injured, we do them all. And then they combine the scores for a total score.
What do you do if you’re injured?
Well, sometimes you compete anyway. Or you can do three events but not a fourth. So you just do your best. We get injured. We get lots of little injuries.
I have a swollen toe today actually. [laughs] We get used to pain. Gymnastics is physically demanding. There’s a lot of repetitive strains. We learn to figure out when to take a break or compete with injury. It’s just a toe. But toes are actually really important. I don’t know.
Conditions are never perfect. We train to prepare our bodies. I’m on the taller side for gymnastics, so I’m a little more prone to injuries. My back and ankles are weak areas. I’m also clumsy.
What! How can you be in gymnastics and clumsy?
I trip all the time! I keep jamming my toe. Everyone laughs, but it can be very painful. We’re not a super high level team, but we’re fit and we try hard.
So you’re all try-hards? :)
It’s not always cool to be a try-hard outside of the gym. But to do this sport, maybe all sports, you have to be able to stand and perform in front of a hundred strangers. And then they literally assign you a number.
And sometimes you have an injury, or you’re overtired or conditions are not quite right, but it’s a team sport and we go out there and get focussed and give what we have.
Seems like you need to have a lot of courage?
You get scored out of ten. So it all comes down to deductions for touching your hair or not pointing your toe, or taking a step, or a wobble. So basically we’re always working toward perfection. And perfection is perfection. So there can be a lot of pressure.
We want to impress our coaches. And our parents. And each other. It’s healthy pressure or it’s not fun. In the gym we’re always cheering for each other, pushing each other. You need a team. Competing by yourself is less fun! Your coaches are there, but it’s surprising how much teammates and friends and community matters.
So I’m a try-hard because my team and coaches, and parents, and everyone who comes out to make events like this happen, are try-hards.
Is your mom sporty?
She is! She does personal training stuff. She’s less sporty than I am I guess. She used to be more sporty. My mom is a really important part of the team!
Yeah, I wonder why “sporty” doesn’t mean everyone who makes sport happen?
Heck yes. First of all, gymnastics is not cheap. And my mom is always finding my gear and making sure I have food and I’m on time and organizing everything. She brings us snacks and then we get home late and she makes us dinner at 9:00pm.
So your whole family is sporty?
Yeah, everyone is part of it. But my dad is also great at cycling. My sister is twelve and she also does gymnastics. We’re in different groups. Sometimes she’s kind of annoying! But I’m sure I’m annoying too!
I also have two brothers. My little brother does gymnastics. I’ve been doing it the longest. In Victoria, there’s not a huge number of boys in gymnastics. There’s more in Vancouver.
What’s next for you?
[laughs] I have things to do this weekend, like compete.