By Brianne Smith
For national-level athletes Cynthia Zhang and Haley Miller, travelling the world is just a bonus.
The girls are gymnasts at the Kanata Rhythmic Sportive Gymnastics Club, where they train competitively to compete at international competitions throughout the year. Zhang, age 12, and Miller, age 15, recently got back from competing abroad in Croatia and Greece. Miller also competed in Bulgaria.
Both girls train as rhythmic gymnasts—which combines elements of ballet, gymnastics, dance and apparatus manipulation. Currently, Miller sits 6th in the Canadian High Performance category and Zhang in 8th, of her age group.
While competing abroad, Miller qualified for two competition finals and Cynthia placed 7th in the age category of her competitions.
For Miller, travelling and competing internationally helps her gain perspective on how athletes around the world compete in the sport.
“I get to train in amazing facilities and compete with incredible gymnasts from around the world, which is always inspiring and pushes me harder,” Miller said. “I also get to train with amazing specialists and learn and grow as a gymnast.”
For Zhang, the feeling is mutual: “I gain more confidence for the other competitions when I go to these big international events. I feel more experienced and less nervous before each competition now that I have more experience and that I am more used to [different] environments,” she said.
Yuliana Korolyova is the national level coach at Kanata Rhythmic Sportive Gymnastics Club. She’s been training Zhang and Miller since moving to Ottawa in 2015. A rhythmic gymnastics coach for over 20 years, Korolyova says travelling and competing internationally has many benefits.
“[The athletes] gain a valuable experience of competing with internationally renowned athletes,” Korolyoya said. “By travelling abroad, girls are exposed to learning by observing other gymnasts from all over the world.”
Both girls practice six days a week for a total of 25 hours. They train year-round, with the exception of a couple weeks off during the summer.
Miller’s mother Lisa said having Korolyova as a coach for the girls has been a game-changer.
“She [brings] a different calibre of technical expertise and training to the girls, and opened up a lot of opportunities for them,” she said. “And Haley has just seized that opportunity in any way shape or form she can. She loves the sport and she pushes herself so hard and she’s just enjoying the journey.”
For Miller, who is in Grade 9, she has learned to balance school, gymnastics, travel and a social life. She attends John McRae Secondary School and is enrolled in its high performance athletics program, which is designed to accommodate athletes and their busy agendas.
Zhang is currently in Grade 7 and is considering a sports-specific high school program to balance her gymnastics and academics after she graduates elementary school.
There’s more travelling ahead for the young athletes. Zhang and Miller both placed in the top 10 for their age categories at the Elite Canada competition in February, earning them a sport to compete at the Canadian Championships in Vancouver in May.
While Zhang prepares for Nationals, Miller will travel to Columbia to represent Canada at the Junior Pan American Championships and Pacific Rim Championships. Afterwards, she’ll join Zhang to compete in Vancouver.
Korolyova is impressed by the work both girls have put in so far this season and is looking forward to their upcoming competitions.
“Haley and Cynthia showed tremendous progress this season. Their dedication and commitment to the training are showing great results at the competition.”