Nothing that Sydney McEachern and Natalie Gervais had experienced before could prepare them for their first foray into the world of international gymnastics.
The members of Springers Gymnastics Club were in France last month, competing in the prestigious Massilia Cup in Marseille.
"In the finals of the competition there were spotlights on the performers," said McEachern, a 17-year-old from Linden Woods. "It was like a hockey game there were so many people there. Back at home, our competitions don’t fill up nearly as much."
Despite the unfamiliar atmosphere, both McEachern and Gervais acquitted themselves nicely against more than 50 gymnasts from North America, Europe and Asia. McEachern finished 12th on the vault, 11th on floor exercise and 29th all-around, while Gervais was ninth on the balance beam and 33rd all-around.
"It was my first time overseas at all," said Gervais, a St. James resident in her first year at the University of Manitoba. "It was pretty cool to see that gymnastics was able to take me that far.
"I was pretty happy with how I did. Overcoming jet lag was a big deal, and being able to perform so far away was a really good feeling."
Rachelle Valel, who coaches both gymnasts, said the main goal of the trip was to gain experience, and set the table for a successful season.
"It was a really good eye-opening thing for them," Valel said. "They could see everyone (from all the countries) working toward the same goal as them, and they saw they’re just as good as people from other countries."
Gervais, who’s studying psychology, knows that the mental side of gymnastics is often what determines how an athlete performs in a big competition.
"It’s definitely great for my confidence," she said, "especially since it’s so early in the season. It’s great getting that under my belt so early on."
The hope now is that the Springers will put on flawless performances in February at the Elite Canada meet in Edmonton. A strong showing there could earn them spots in the national high-performance classification.
"They’re both pretty close to that," Valel said. "Hopefully this will help them gain the confidence they need to get there."
McEachern said the trip convinced her just how close she is to the elite gymnasts she’s hoping to catch.
"I’m not as far behind as I expected to be," she said.
The trip turned the pair of athletes into minor celebrities at their home club, with younger gymnasts eager to learn everything they could about the experience. Gervais said a question-and-answer session with some of club’s aspiring competitive gymnasts was beneficial for everyone involved.
"It was awesome, looking back and thinking that I would have been that kid asking those questions not that long ago," she said. "It feels good to be the person they’re looking up to. And it gives you motivation and makes you want to do better."