Mackenzie Boyer was only two years old when she joined her first gymnastics class in La Ronge, Sask. Since then, she has spent much of her time upside down.
Flips, handstands, tumbling — Mackenzie loves being on the mat.
"I remember from a young age I was kind of self-taught and I remember doing my first backflip on the grass in my backyard. That's a good memory," said Mackenzie with a big smile on her face.
Now at age 14, Mackenzie is competing in the Saskatchewan Winter Games for the first time. She is one of five members of the Prince Albert Aerials Club who are participating.
On Monday the team won the bronze medal, and Mackenzie competes solo on Tuesday.
It was a long trip to Regina for the La Ronge gymnast, but she's no stranger to extensive car rides. For years, Mackenzie's parents drove her the five-hour round trip to Prince Albert for gymnastics classes.
At first it was just her. But eventually she and a small group of girls made the trip down on Saturday mornings. They would wake up at 6 a.m. to be in Prince Albert for gymnastics class at 9 a.m.
But that didn't bother young Mackenzie.
"Usually we'd have a sleepover on that night, so we'd always be excited to get going in the morning."
Mackenzie said tumbling was the first move she nailed in class. But while gymnastics came easily to her, Mackenzie was very shy.
"I think back in the day when she was little I didn't realize how nervous she was to meet people," said Mackenzie's mother and Prince Albert Aerials Club team manager Audrey Boyer.
"I thought she'd be so excited and she was just absolutely petrified. She wanted to do gym, but she was scared of people," Audrey said.
Turns out being part of a gymnastics team really helped with Mackenzie's shyness.
"Now she's got some of the best friends that she's ever going to have in her life," Audrey said.
Meanwhile, those trips to Prince Albert for gymnastics classes with friends began to change.
"Initially it was a group of us went on Saturday so we could share the driving. It was just once a week, but eventually the other kids dropped off," Audrey said.
"But [Mackenzie] seemed to be interested and wanted to stick with it."
Path to the Winter Games
As she grew older, Mackenzie had more training and competition opportunities, as well as gymnastics camps in places like Saskatoon. By 2018, Audrey said their family was driving Mackenzie out of La Ronge twice a week, and then eventually three times a week.
The mother of three said her community stepped up in a big way.
"We definitely could not have done any of this without our La Ronge family. It was a lot of transient people in La Ronge and not a lot of us have any biological family there," Audrey said.
"So we we were only able to do this thanks to a lot of our friends that would drive the others to their activities or have them for sleepovers if we were getting home late ... Definitely a lot of community support to keep her going."
Mackenzie has competed in Saskatchewan, Alberta and even Las Vegas. Audrey said gymnasts in the north have never been able to go to the Winter Games before because the clubs didn't have gymnasts at that level. But years of hard work and driving to classes and competitions have changed that.
"I thought, wow, look at all this ... how far it's come that we've got a kid that can have that opportunity," Audrey said. Today the family splits their time between La Ronge and Prince Albert.
As for Mackenzie, she's excited to stay in the Winter Games dorms in Regina with all the other kids. Mackenzie listens to 1990s rap to get her pumped up before competing, and keeps a good luck bracelet close by, as it was given to her by her friend and teammate Naomi Johns.
She's especially excited to wear her Team North gear, as she and Johns are the first gymnasts from La Ronge to ever compete in the Winter Games.
Mackenzie said she is very proud to represent the north.