St. John's gymnast strikes gold in national competition

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Kyla Piercey practises some moves on the balance beam. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC - image credit)
Kyla Piercey practises some moves on the balance beam. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC - image credit)

Early on a Thursday morning, Kyla Piercey stretches on a mat in the empty Cygnus Gymnastics Training Centre in St. John's, moving with ease through positions that would make less flexible people a little uneasy.

Focused and calm, she goes through her warmup exercises nearly effortlessly under the watchful eye of head coach Allison Kirby.

Piercey doesn't take up too much space. The 10-year-old stands around four feet three inches, but when her warmup is over, and the real work begins, she towers over everything.

"There is no doubt that she's special," said Kirby. "She has a special talent and her spirit is special. She's the whole package."

But becoming that wasn't as easy as she makes a series of back handsprings look.

Jeremy Eaton/CBC
Jeremy Eaton/CBC

Piercey says she became interested in gymnastics when she was just eight months old, and started competitive gymnastics at age four.

These days she spends about 25 hours a week training with a drive and a determination you don't see in many athletes her age.

"My whole family is, like, really active, so it might come from them," Piercey said.

In early July the soon-to-be sixth grader took part in the 2021 Novice Canadian Championships.

The COVID-19 pandemic hasn't been kind to many aspects of people's daily lives and high-level gymnasts like Piercey felt it.

When the gym was forced to close, twice, she had to move training online.

"It was a real struggle," Kirby said. "You can't do gymnastics at home, certainly not at this level."

Another effect of the pandemic is that this year's nationals was a virtual event; Piercey streamed her routines under the watchful eye of a judge and sent a recording of it to another set of judges.

Despite the challenges the soft-spoken and modest young athlete said she enjoyed her first time competing in the event.

"It was really fun," she said.

"I didn't really care what my placing was; all I cared about was having fun and how my teammates were doing."

Cygnus Gymnastics
Cygnus Gymnastics

Piercey outperformed the other gymnasts and impressed the judges enough to secure gold in the all-around competition, which includes a floor routine, some vault jumps, the uneven bars and the balance beam.

It's the first time a gymnast from Cygnus has been able to accomplish that, said her coach.

"It's absolutely huge," said Kirby.

"We have won medals at nationals before but to have an all-around national champion, it's something we've been working toward for 10-plus years"

Adding to that feat is that she is about three months shy of her 11th birthday and was competing against athletes age 11-13.

Jeremy Eaton/CBC
Jeremy Eaton/CBC

Equally impressive is her passion for practising, repeating the same tricks and routines over and over until she gets it.

Even when her coach thinks it's time for a break, Piercey keeps pushing.

"When we were getting ready for nationals there was something she was struggling with and she couldn't get it," said Kirby. "I said, 'OK, I think we've had enough. We will try again tomorrow,' and she said, 'No, I want to do it again.' It's incredible."

Kirby said Piercey will keep training and preparing for more national competitions and other high-level events, and Piercey herself says she just wants to keep practising and getting better.

"I want to try to be a really good gymnast," she said. "I'd like to try to go to the Olympic trials someday."

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