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SVG’S first gymnastics team: Little in size, big on talent!

SVG’S first gymnastics team: Little in size, big on talent!

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When the technical director of the Dolphins Gymnastics and Health Academy made the decision to enter a team of Vincentian gymnasts into a competition held in the USA, she expected them to perform well – but with just under four months of practice, she was not anticipating them bringing home any medals.

The team of eight pint-sized gymnasts not only met their coach’s{{more}} expectation, they far exceeded it by winning bronze overall – thus giving her hope that the team is nurturing talent that will take some of them to championship and Olympic levels!

In an exclusive interview with team coach LaPrise Harris-Williams last Thursday, SEARCHLIGHT had the opportunity to find out more about this country’s first gymnastics programme, and also to meet the members of the team who represented St Vincent and the Grenadines so well on the international stage.

Last month, SVG was represented at an invitational gymnastics competition in Houston, Texas, which saw the Dolphins competing in four events: vaulting horse, uneven parallel bars, balance beams and floor exercise.

As the team’s gymnasium at Prospect is somewhat limited in the equipment the team has to practise on, Harris-Williams said her initial goal in taking part in the competition was to gain “exposure and experience”.

“What I found when I started training the athletes is that Vincentians are very strong-willed and they are very talented athletically. So, it was very easy to combine the knowledge and experience that I have in gymnastics and to teach the kids who were so willing to learn,” she explained.

In order to prepare for the Houston event, the team had to double their practice times. And on arrival in the US, Dolphins only had the opportunity to practise in a fully equipped gym one day before competing against nine other teams.

“The girls had one day of practice on some of the real equipment, and I felt that they were educated enough to safely compete… I was really proud of the girls; they did phenomenal!”

Speaking with the team members, who range in age from eight to 11 years old, it was quite apparent that the highlight of the competition – apart from walking away with bronze medals for their endeavour – was the opportunity to meet Simone Biles, who is an 18-year-old American World Champion artistic gymnast.

Biles has held the World All-Round Champion title for the past three years, and was the first Black American to do so. She also holds the record for most gold medals won by a female gymnast in the history of World Championships.

So, the opportunity for the Dolphins to meet this legend at such an early stage of their gymnastic careers is undoubtedly a great boost in confidence and aspiration.

With over 20 years of experience within the field of gymnastics, Harris-Williams pointed out that she is well-connected within the US world of gymnastics, and is receiving assistance from friends and associates, who have committed to helping her develop the gymnastics programme here in SVG.

“I think that it will help to develop really serious gymnastics on the island.”

The team has been invited to participate in a couple regional events later this year. However, Harris-Williams (who is also a registered nurse working with the World Paediatric Project) said that she has not come to a final decision on whether the athletes will go or not.

“What I want to focus on is refining, making sure that we have better skill development, and just seeing if we have a chance to get some equipment, so that they can properly train and move on. I do feel that with the proper training and equipment, we can have [future] Olympians on island!”

Currently, the team comprises 10 – 12 athletes, and the programme caters to 55 students (both boys and girls), ranging in age from three to 11 years old.

Harris-Williams also encouraged more boys to join up the programme, insisting that despite the local stereotype of it being a “girls’ sport”, it is anything but such.

“It is very much so a co-ed sport. We do have boys who participate, and they quite love it…”

Classes cater to varying skill levels and run from Monday to Saturday, starting at approximately 3:30 – 4:30 pm.

“The cost is very minimal, considering the apparatus and the whole expense with it, but what I’m going to offer, so that people can get exposure to the sport, is for one full week, anyone who wants to come in and do a trial can come in and do one free trial.”

The head coach said that she highly recommends gymnastics for children, because it helps them “develop with agility, strength, fine motor skills, large motor skills.”

“They have better special awareness, their cores develop stronger… Developmentally, kids [doing gymnastics] are going to be stronger than the average child… It takes a lot of focus and a lot of self-control and a whole lot of discipline. We find that kids that do gymnastics throughout the years, they do a lot better in school.”

Harris-Williams, who has been resident in SVG with her husband since August 2015, started the gymnastics programme in October 2015. She can be contacted at (784) 491-4645 or [email protected]

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