Sports

Teenager off to Las Vegas this weekend with Team Ontario

 DAVID MANN, Special to the Examiner

Hailey Kohler, 13, chalks up before training on the uneven bars. Kohler, who trains at the Infinity Gymnastics Centre on Snow Valley Road, will be heading to the Lady Luck International in Las Vegas this weekend. MARK WANZEL/PHOTO

Hailey Kohler, 13, chalks up before training on the uneven bars. Kohler, who trains at the Infinity Gymnastics Centre on Snow Valley Road, will be heading to the Lady Luck International in Las Vegas this weekend. MARK WANZEL/PHOTO

Hailey Kohler will be making a trip to Las Vegas this weekend, as she represents Team Ontario in the Lady Luck gymnastics competition.

The 13-year-old trains at Infinity Gymnastics on Snow Valley Road, north of Barrie.

Her coach, Michelle Pothier, has been involved with the sport for more than 30 years as a coach alone, including 12 at the competitive level. Over that span, she has only seen five or six girls make the provincial team.

“She’s a dream,” Pothier said, praising Kohler, who placed fourth overall out of 76 athletes from across Ontario to make the team.

“She’s a really, really hard worker, meticulous, pays attention to detail,” Pothier added. “She wants her gymnastics to be perfect and that’s why she goes out and competes so easily.”

What started as a recreation class for Kohler when she was eight years old has turned into a hobby that she can’t get enough of.

“I’ve always loved gymnastics and it’s just fun to get new skills and compete,” exclaimed the eager gymnast.

Kohler is one of 60 competitive athletes at Infinity who spend close to 24 hours each week practising.

At one point earlier in 2016, the future of the Barrie gymnast didn’t look so promising.

“I was tumbling and I was doing a front tuck and I over-rotated,” Kohler explained. “I landed on basically both of my feet and they went out and I broke both.”

The setback put Kohler out of gymnastics for a couple of months, which included one month in a wheelchair.

After extensive physiotherapy, she jumped back on the balance beam only to discover that her feet weren’t quite the same

“It was really hard to get back into it because it was almost like I got new feet,” Kohler said with a laugh. “Everyone said I was walking in glass shoes because I was walking so carefully.”

Even in the midst of her injury, Kohler’s father would bring her to the gym and slowly work with her on strength, balance and handstands, even with her air-cast boots on.

Pothier suggests that in the long run, Kohler’s injury may have been beneficial.

“Not only has she come back from that (injury) physically, she has come back emotionally. Watching her develop that confidence and that obstacle is just phenomenal,” Pothier said.

Since making the transition back to the gym, Kohler continues to keep putting in the work she needs to compete.

Aside from provincial teams, regional, provincial and national competitions, Kohler is progressing her way up the 10-level gymnastics program. She’s currently in Level 7.

It’s not impossible that she could reach Level 9 before the end of high school.

“It’s basically just like repetition,” Kohler said. “You have to keep doing it and doing it until you find the right body position.

“It’s kind of like muscle memory, so you get used to doing the skill a certain way,” she added.

There are four events that gymnasts go through in a competition: vault, uneven bars, beam and floor.

According to Pothier, it’d be hard to find a weakness in her 13-year-old student.

“She holds really high scores in all four pieces of apparatus, and that is a little bit rare,” Pothier said. “Usually, girls will be strong and fast and, therefore, good on vault and really good tumblers. Those things go well together.

“In this event (beams), you need to have really good flexibility, a good sense of balance and spatial awareness, and bars is something different altogether,” she added.

Pothier described Kohler best this way: “She’s not a specialist, she’s just a really well-rounded athlete.”

As Kohler tries her hand at all four events in Las Vegas this weekend, she’ll likely go up against some of the best gymnasts she’s ever faced.

But that shouldn’t scare her.

“I’ve always loved competing and I like competing with other people and I feel more confident with other people. I feel more calm,” Kohler said in a composed manner.

Team Ontario has spent one training session together so far, allowing the girls to familiarize themselves both with one another and their routines.

They’ll have more time to practise for the Lady Luck Competition once in Las Vegas.

But no matter the outcome, Infinity Gymnastics will certainly be rooting for Kohler. 



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