Jacob Baggott, Erika Lepper and Tatsuo Okuma won gold at gymnastics provincials.
JUSTIN BRISBANE RMO PHOTO
Erika Lepper has a complicated relationship with gymnastics.
The sport has broken her toe so badly it required surgery, twisted her spine, and left her concussed. But Lepper, the 16-year-old gymnastics star, refuses to give up the sport she loves.
Her determination resulted in a provincial title recently in Fort McMurray.
Lepper won the overall title on the strength of a gold medal performance on bars in the JO8 category. It was the second provincial title for Lepper, who last won in 2015, when she was crowned.
“It's been a tough year. To come back from everything, it's good,” Lepper said.
Standing atop the podium gave Lepper a chance to reflect upon what she's overcome through the sport.
“I've had a lot of injuries, especially in my back. In December, I fell on my neck and had a concussion. I broke my toe a couple years ago and had surgery on it. I had misplaced vertebrae – they were twisted and they had to do a bunch of manipulation to fix it. It's been hard,” Lepper said. “I just do my best to forget about it. I focus on my goal instead of what has happened before.”
Lepper knew focus would be the key to victory. Nerves had kept her up the night before competition, so four strong performances was integral. She pulled off a remarkable Tsuk pike on the vault, and then relied on her strength on the bars to secure the win.
“My vault was the highlight of my day. I've had struggles with it in the past,” Lepper said. “I ran my fastest, and flipped my hardest.”
The bars have always been a strength for Lepper, and an indication of her impressive skill. The 16-year-old said her chin-up record is 21, so she's no slouch when it comes to upper body power.
“The Bars have always been my favourite. I guess I'm just a bit of a monkey. I like to swing,” Lepper said.
The win was a vindication for Lepper, who said her head injury put her season in jeopardy. At the time of the head injury, she could barely sit up without getting a headache. Now she's symptom free and flying once again.
“It took a whole lot of determination and 100 per cent effort at all times,” Lepper said.
Training 16 hours a week, Lepper said gymnastics is her life. She's moved through the ranks, and has begun to pursue coaching avenues. As she increases her skills, Lepper said her training would approach 22 hours a week, something she will balance with her Grade 10 studies at CCHS.
Canmore Illusions Gymnastic Club coach Ashley Sportun said the win is a great accomplishment for Lepper, and a testament to her commitment to the program.
“Erika has a strong upper body. Her bars are strong, which sets her apart from other girls. She has a good commitment to the sport and is willing to learn. She's a good student of mine,” Sportun said. “She's overcome injuries and it's nice to see her come back.”
Lepper led a strong contingent of local gymnasts in Fort McMurray. Ainsly McCaffrey took first place on the vault in the JO7 division. Ivy Tupper was second on bars, and second all around in the High Performance novice group. Rianne Hambley was second on beam, and Anna Parent was third on vault in JO8. Amelia Capel took third on beams in the JO6 division. Jesse House was third on floors in JO7, Gabi Perez de Camino was third on beam in JO6, and Matilda Kirk was third on Vault and beam in Aspire 2.