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MVP of the Week: All-around the apparatus —and the province

New head coach Erin Hipkiss looks to build upon medal winning Prince Rupert Gymnastics Club

She has coached in all corners of the province, leaving her mark on several gymnastics clubs along the way. Now, Erin Hipkiss is looking to bring the success she has enjoyed to Prince Rupert, and further bolster the winning spirit the club has established.

Hipkiss is the new head coach of the Prince Rupert Gymnastics Club. She has prior experience with the team, having worked with them under former head coach Bill Tyrwhitt. Starting this year though she will leave her own mark, with her own coaching style, on the competitive team.

“I fell in love with this facility,” Hipkiss said when she first saw the club. Secluded in the back of the museum, the gym’s architecture and view of the water make it a picturesque training area.

“There’s something super special about the kids up here,” Hipkiss added. “When I got offered to come up here again and possibly take the job, it was definitely intriguing. I’m glad I took the job, and I’m looking forward to this season.”

Hipkiss is already hard at work, holding a week-long intensive camp in the lead-up to the new year in order to make sure her girls are ready for the competitive season. She has dozens of athletes to manage, all of varying ages, but finds time to work the floor so each group receives attention.

Like many sports today, Hipkiss is also harnessing the power of technology in her role. She will film routines and exercises on a tablet, and play it back for the girls so they can study what went well, and what part of their technique needs refining.

Erin Hipkiss tracks her students' form through her tablet. (Alex Kurial / The Northern View)

Hipkiss has held many jobs in the gymnastics world and has been involved with the sport most of her life. Growing up in Quesnel, she says her mom was the person who set her on her current path.

“I was running up the walls when I was a kid, so my parents put me into a parent-tot program,” Hipkiss says of her origins with gymnastics. Starting at age three, Hipkiss was competing by age six, and high level by the time she turned 12.

Hipkiss credits gymnastics with helping her in her everyday life during these years.

“It gave me a lot of self-confidence, especially going into high school,” she explained. “Being confident in myself and being able to move any way I wanted to, it’s such an empowering feeling. Especially for young girls.”

Erin Hipkiss gives out instructions as her student gets ready to attempt a routine. (Alex Kurial / The Northern View)

Hipkiss took her first major coaching job in Fort St. John as a recreational coordinator and assistant head coach of the town’s competitive team. Following her time there, she went to North Vancouver to work for the renowned Flicka Gymnastics Club’s elite program, during which time she helped guide athletes to the national team.

A job in Fernie followed, which is where Hipkiss recounts some of her best memories.

“Fernie was amazing because I got to integrate my snowboard training,” Hipkiss said. “It was really awesome to bring those programs to the athletes out there.”

Hipkiss was especially proud of how the adult programs were able to flourish in Fernie, and she hopes to see the same success with adult athletes in Prince Rupert. She plans to offer drop-in nights where participants can come check out the sport and learn a skill.

Most recently Hipkiss coached out of Squamish with one of her mentors, Lisa Brougham. When the opportunity to coach her own team became available, it was a chance that Hipkiss jumped at. After participating or coaching gymnastics in the central, northeast, southwest and southeast parts of the province, the role here in the northwest will have put her in all regions of B.C.

Erin Hipkiss uses technology to review methods and techniques with her athletes. (Alex Kurial / The Northern View)

Hipkiss has hit the ground running. Following the conclusion of the camp, she’s off on a flight to Squamish to retrieve her belongings. After a check-in at her former facility, she’ll be on her way back to Prince Rupert and the start of the season.

The city has come to expect a lot from its gymnastics program, with several medals won at high level competitions in recent years. Hipkiss believes she is more than up for the challenge, but she stresses that her focus is on developing well rounded athletes who leave her program.

“There’s so much to love about the sport, but I love the healthy habits that it’s instilled in me. I can’t sit still, I always have to be walking on my hands, I have to be riding my mountain bike, I have to be active,” Hipkiss said.

Erin Hipkiss tracks her students' form through her tablet. (Alex Kurial / The Northern View)

Hipkiss lists determination and ambition as the two most prominent character traits gymnastics has bestowed upon her.

“That’s the one thing I want kids to take from the program, to develop that sense of self confidence, self awareness, and take all of those traits that I’ve learned throughout the years and take them into life.”

“I’m really focused on developing happy, healthy and strong independent kids that come through my program, rather than just gymnasts that are just out to win gold medals,” she added.

Hipkiss is looking to take her new opportunity to get back into competition herself. Aside from the competitive team, Hipkiss and her fellow coaches will run a number of recreational gymnastics classes, meant to get people interested in the sport, and to stay active.

No matter your level, Hipkiss says there is a place for everyone here in the gym.

“Gymnastics is a sport for life. It means movement,” she says. “As long as you keep moving in here, you’re a gymnast.”

Alex Kurial | Sports Reporter
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