In the weeks leading up to the scheduled start of the Games in Japan, the Free Press will profile the elite Manitoba athletes who will be taking part in the Summer Olympics or Paralympics. In this instalment, we profile Brandon's Lorie Henderson, who will be making her second trip to the Olympics as a coach for Canada's artistic gymnastics squad.
Lorie Henderson has been nurturing the grassroots of artistic gymnastics for most of the last three decades.
She's also coached at the highest levels of the sport, helping to guide the Canadian team at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.
Now, the soon-to-be-retired head coach and program director of the Brandon Eagles Gymnastics Centre is back for more. Recently, she was named to the coaching staff of the women's team that will represent Canada in Tokyo next month.
A return to the Olympic stage is welcome, but the COVID-19 pandemic makes the 66-year-old Henderson uneasy about travelling halfway around the globe.
"I can't say that I'm extremely comfortable about travelling in a pandemic," said Henderson last week. "I'm in the age group (where) it's not great if you were to get COVID but I have both my vaccines… They've put a lot of things in place. We're going to receive many tests, we're in a bubble before we leave, we're in a bubble when we get there. And basically, when we arrive in Tokyo, I don't believe the athletes are allowed out of the village."
Henderson leaves Sunday for a pre-Olympic camp in Montreal and the entire team departs for Japan on July 13. They will train in Yokkaichi for seven days before moving to Tokyo for the competition.
She has terrific memories of her experience in Rio.
"It was good, it seems like forever ago now," said Henderson. "It's going to be very different… There was so much happening in the village and you could do so many more things… so you know it's gonna be different and I also had an individual gymnast involved. Now I'm just working with the entire national team, which I really enjoy so you know I get to kind of be a part of everybody's ups and everybody's downs."
Henderson helped guide Canada to a ninth-place finish in the team event and one of her athletes, Brandon's Isabelle Onyshko, finished 18th in the all-around competition and eighth on beam, becoming the first Canadian gymnast to make a beam final at the Olympics.
In 2021, Henderson won't be coaching one of her Brandon athletes in Japan.
Quinn Skrupa, a national team member since 2019, was not one of five gymnasts and four alternates named to the Olympic squad. Skrupa was severely hampered in her training during the most restrictive portions of Manitoba's pandemic shutdown.
"In 2020 she was about eighth in the country and now it's like she's just now starting to get back all this stuff that she was doing and we're focusing on college right now," said Henderson. "And next year, hopefully we're looking into the future but staying on the senior national team and attending college in the States."
While Skrupa will continue her career as a scholarship athlete at Central Michigan University, Henderson is stepping down from the Eagles post she has held since moving to Brandon from Winnipeg almost 27 years ago.
Henderson retires officially on July 1 but vowed to continue an active role in the sport.
"I know Gym Can(ada) is restructuring a little bit," she said. "I would love to stay on in some capacity with Gym Can. I feel that I'd like to continue working with the junior national team and help out with the seniors."
Manitoba Gymnastics Association executive and technical director Karly Miller said Henderson is an invaluable resource for the sport.
"I think her international experience is something that can be shared within our province," said Miller. "And we are a small province — typically our pool of athletes is much smaller than those of other provinces like Quebec or Ontario or Alberta so it's it's really beneficial to us to have her go to things like that. The level of knowledge that she brings back — you can't really put a price on it."
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.