Dakota Swim-McNeil and Ava Clarance will be looking to book their tickets to the 2020 B.C. Winter Games, taking place in Fort St. John in February. (Alex Kurial / The Northern View)

Prince Rupert gymnasts have eyes on winter games

Duo will look to lock up their spot during next weekend’s qualifiers in Terrace

It’s a big week ahead for the Prince Rupert Gymnastics Association, as they are seeking to land their first ever entries into next year’s B.C. Winter Games.

The quest lies with 14-year-old gymnasts Dakota Swim-McNeil and Ava Clarance, who under the direction of new PRGA head coach Erin Hipkiss will be looking to make some history for the club. If the girls are able to qualify, they will be the first participants from the PRGA to do so. The B.C. Winter Games will take place during February in Fort St. John.

The girls will be attempting Level 7 routines at a Dec. 7 zone qualifier in Terrace, which will consist of five ‘A’ level moves and two ‘B’ level moves. Both Swim-McNeil and Clarance have been hard at work in the leadup to the event, spending four days a week in the club’s museum headquarters honing their skills.

Dakota Swim-McNeil keeps her focus in the air as she trains for the B.C. Winter Games qualifiers. (Alex Kurial / The Northern View)

“I’ve been working on my giants on strap, free hip to handstand, cast to handstand, back handspring on beam, back walkover on beam, and I’ve pretty much got everything on floor,” Swim-McNeil said. “My favourite event is floor because I’m a good tumbler.”

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For Clarance, the chance to perform at the Winter Games would be extra special as they will take place in her hometown of Fort St. John. “It would mean a lot to me because I would get to perform in front of my family and friends, and I would get to see my old team,” Clarance said.

Like Swim-McNeil, Clarance has a long list of skills that she’s been working on. “My favourite event is bars, and I’m most confident there,” she said. “I’ve been stretching a lot, and been working my giants, free up to handstand, my connection on beam, and tumbling. A lot of tumbling.”

Ava Clarance gets a temporary inverted view of the PRGA facility as she flips on the trampoline. (Alex Kurial / The Northern View)

Hipkiss has been especially impressed with the work the athletes have done to rise to the Level 7 mark so quickly. “These two girls have done a phenomenal job in the last two months taking themselves from Levels 5 and 6 and pushing to get into these trials for Level 7,” she said. “They’re definitely taking to the program. I’m so proud of the work that they’re doing, it’s a very hard level to attain in a short amount of time.”

The rise in level brings with it tougher critiques by the judges however. Hipkiss explained what Swim-McNeil and Clarance will need to do in order to impress the decision makers.

“The judges are really looking for clean artistry and clean skills. JO7 really forces the girls to do a lot of bar conditioning, so it’s a lot of working out for these two right now,” Hipkiss explained.

“The biggest thing that I’ve been working on with these girls is mental training,” Hipkiss added. “They have to understand the physical preperation that it takes to get to these skills, and understanding the journey to accomplishing these skills.”

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If Ava Clarance is successful in qualifying, she will have the chance to compete in her hometown of Fort St. John. (Alex Kurial / The Northern View)

Dakota Swim-McNeil’s favourite event is the floor routine, given her penchant for tumbling. (Alex Kurial / The Northern View)

Prince Rupert’s zone includes Terrace, Kitimat and Smithers. Although they will technically be in competition with each other, Hipkiss has forged a strong relationship with Karl McPherson at the Terrace Peaks Gymnastics Club, even travelling with Swim-McNeil, Clarance and others to spend some time in their larger facility.

“It’s been incredible to have him [McPherson] in the zone as another high level coach,” Hipkiss said. “He’s graciously opened the doors to the Terrace gymnastics club for our girls to train. So I’d like to say thank you to Terrace and thank you to Karl for giving us that chance.”


Alex Kurial | Sports Reporter
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