By Michelle Uens
My life pretty much revolved around gymnastics until I hit a growth spurt at 13 years of age. Up until then, I had competed in several events, including floor and beam. But once I got to be too tall for the uneven bars, I turned to coaching. Each September to June over the next few years, I taught kids to tumble, leap and do handstands. And when school was out, I ran gymnastics programs at summer camps. Things haven’t changed much for me since then. As Kinderdance’s ‘gold’ area developer for Eastern Ontario, I still teach floor gymnastics, although students aren’t just picking up the basics. They learn numbers, colours, shapes and words through movement.
It’s funny where life takes you. Sometimes, you end up right back where you started. Everything I was doing back then and loved is what I’m doing now.
A balancing act
Although I was born in Kingston, Ont., I grew up in nearby Belleville after my dad—an elementary school principal—got a job with the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board in 1973.
My parents always encouraged an active lifestyle. My brother Randy took up hockey, my sister Stephanie signed up for swimming and, at four years of age, I got into ballet. Our hectic schedules with sports kept Mom and Dad busy, too, what with all the driving to practices, games and competitions.
While my parents thought ballet would be a good fit for me, I wasn’t too keen on it. I was a very rambunctious child and had a hard time sitting still. Ballet requires etiquette and discipline, of which I was in short supply.
The following year, my parents enrolled me in gymnastics, which allowed me to channel my energy better. I took to the sport quite easily. And although ballet and I didn’t mix at the time, it taught me footwork and gave me great posture, which helped immensely with my gymnastics.
Five days out of the week, you could find me training with the local club, Quinte Bay Gymnastics. I have to admit I enjoyed floor and vault more than anything, although I seemed to do really well on the beam, even getting third place at a local competition. But the older I got, the taller I grew. By 13, I was so long and lanky, my coaches had to stretch the bars out for me. Eventually, I couldn’t do a lot of the moves, but that didn’t stop me from teaching them. For the next seven years or so, I coached gymnastics through different summer programs and day camps. And at 16, my dad got me a position teaching gymnastics at a few schools during the lunch hour.
I took a couple of years off after high school, as I didn’t know what I wanted to do career-wise. Eventually, I decided to enrol in Loyalist College to study law and security administration. I was hoping to get into corrections, as I had heard it offered decent pay and there was job security. I also had some experience in the field, since I had done placements in the young offender program at Collins Bay Institution in Kingston. I liked working with kids, whether they were struggling with issues or not. I’ve always been the kind of person who could easily connect with children. On some level, I suppose I can relate to them. My parents divorced when I was 12 years old and we went through some difficult times as a family. I find I’m much more patient with kids than I am with adults sometimes. My belief is by the time you hit 18, you have to start taking responsibility for stuff.