Sydney McEachern and Natalie Gervais have been close friends and gymnastics teammates for seven years.
They’ve competed provincially and nationally together. They’ve competed in France together. And now they’re going to college together.
The duo from Springers Gymnastics Club is headed to Eastern Michigan University in the fall on full athletic scholarships.
McEachern, a 17-year-old Linden Woods resident, knew that’s where she was headed last June when she verbally committed to the Eagles during a visit to the campus.
But it wasn’t until about three months ago that Gervais, an 18-year-old from St. James, sat down with her coaches for a chat that would change her life.
"When I found out they were making me an offer it was a huge surprise," said Gervais, who recently won the national open division at the Manitoba Open Gymnastics Championships. "I had no idea they were looking at me. I was shocked."
Moments later, when Gervais shared the news with her current and future teammate, the emotion poured out.
"After the coaches told her she came into the change room and we both started crying and hugging each other," said McEachern, the senior high performance champion at the recent provincial event. "Now we can move on and improve as gymnasts together. To be able to go away and have this amazing experience with your best friend makes it even better."
Gervais said she mentioned the idea of being college roommates to McEachern as far back as 2009, when EMU first started to take notice of their talent.
"We’ve spent 20-plus hours a week together since we were 10 or 11," she said. "I’m looking forward to sharing this experience with her."
After being unable to secure a U.S. scholarship for this year, Gervais found herself at a crossroads. Needing to pay for school on her own, it would be impossible to find enough hours in the day to work and train at the level she was accustomed to.
"Something had to go," she said. "So I’m lucky that everything worked out. This is a good way to do it all. Everyone on the team is in university, so the coaches are very understanding and make sure everything fits with our classes."
After years spent competing primarily as individuals, both gymnasts say they’re looking forward to the emphasis that college competition places on team success. Teams can use their top six gymnasts on each apparatus, allowing most of the athletes to focus on their given specialty.
For McEachern, this means a chance to put all her effort into the floor exercise and vault. Gervais will undoubtedly be a key contributor on the beam.
"It will definitely be more nerve wracking at first, knowing if you mess up it’s not only about you but about everyone on the team," McEachern said. "But we all have the team’s support and no one is going to hate each other for one mistake."
Gervais added that she’s excited for another aspect of college gymnastics: the fact that more emphasis is placed on consistency rather than attempting big tricks.