Competitive Team Returns To Great Lakes Gymnastics

By Thomas Slager /

August 2021 is beginning to feel like normal again for the owners, coaches, and students at Great Lakes Gymnastics in Chatham.  As Covid restrictions begin to lift around the province the gym has been able to reopen and offer classes, summer camps and, starting on Monday, tryouts for their competitive team.  On this particular evening, the waiting room is a bustle of activity as parents move to windows to watch their kids practice and learn new skills with the coaches.  

Audrey-Ann van der Zon, co-owner of the gym with Joel Desjardins, works in the capacity of General Manager, Competition Manager and Recreation Manager.  She also coaches, along with Joel.  It keeps her busy, and her excitement at being able to open their doors again is apparent. 

“We took possession of the building 2 years ago,” said van der Zon. “We put extensive renovation into the building.  The roof has been done, lots of painting has been done. Everything is brand new.  It’s completely different.  It’s nice to see that the parents are recognizing us as a new gym.”

Van der Zon continued, “Having the kids coming back into the gym and seeing their faces is so rewarding!  We tell parents that it’s ok that they’re scared, it’s ok that they are nervous. It will take time for these kids to get used to it.”

On the next two Mondays, August 9 and 16, Great Lakes Gymnastics will be holding tryouts for their Women’s Competitive Team.  Typically, team members are aged 6 and up.  The gym normally fields a squad of around 15 athletes who will spend the year training and competing in Ontario.  

According to van der Zon, being on the team is a year-long commitment.  “We have girls who are dedicated to the sport who come in anywhere from two to four days a week, between two and a half and three hours per day. They are learning how to do their skills properly and safely. They are learning about their agility, their coordination, and how to increase their stamina, flexibility and skills that they need in order to do those routines.  Once they have those, they can compete against other teams in Ontario.”

The year is unofficially split into two parts.  November through June is the competition season, while the rest of the year is dedicated to training.  The team will typically go to at least three competitions per year, with the time in between each one spent working on skills based on feedback from the judges’ scoring.  Van der Zon noted that while competitors compete against others of similar ages, the levels are also “based on your level and your ability.  You will have girls that are on level 3 that are ages 6 or 7.  You will have girls that are on level 3 that are ages 10-12 plus.” 

Van der Zon explained, “Levels one through five is prescribed, it’s all laid out for you.   Everybody does the same routines.  Once you hit level six you make up your own routines and pick your own music. At higher levels, the judges will say you need to have ‘this many skills that are worth an ‘A-Skill’; this many that are worth a ‘B-Skill.’  Then you create your own choreography and your own music.”   This ensures that athletes demonstrate their ability in each level’s required skills on the floor, uneven bars, balance beam and vault. 

Van der Zon described the competitions, saying,“You get onto this big stage. You see all these girls in their pretty leotards, their hair is done up and there is music all around.  You are showcasing your routine to a panel of judges. You may have three other routines going on, in the gym, but all eyes are on you. The spotlight is on them, which is very exciting but it can be nerve-wracking.”

It all helps build character, something that all young people can benefit from.  Van der Zon points out that gymnastics, in general, is very beneficial for kids.  Gymnasts “learn to be independent.  They are learning they can overcome fears.  They are also learning their strengths and coordination.  It’s a really great stepping stone for other sports because we are teaching the kids at a young age about agility, about balance, where they can transfer those skills to say, Hockey, or Badminton, or Basketball, or wherever.”

While the competitive team is only open to girls right now, there are still plenty of opportunities to explore what gymnastics has to offer for any child, boy or girl, even if they are not interested in competing.  Van der Zon said, “Starting in September we are going to be full-go again. We are having our rec classes, our open gym, and birthday parties.  We are also going to be having camps during the school year when the kids are off of school.”

It’s an exciting time, bringing the kids back and gearing up for competition again.  It’s a sign that maybe we are finally moving past covid.  As the giggles and laughter from the young gymnasts echo through the facility, it feels something like normal again. 

For more information about Great Lakes Gymnastics or the competitive team tryouts, you can reach them through their website at

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