There could be a lot weighing on Alex Empey’s mind as she prepares to compete in the Western Canadian gymnastics championships in Saskatoon this week, but the 18-year-old Brandonite is trying to not worry about it.
Empey is one of five Brandon Eagles gymnasts that will be competing at westerns, which will be held from Thursday to Sunday, and she will be looked at as a leader by the rest of the Brandon contingent. Not only is Empey the lone Eagle who isn’t making her debut at the event, but she also coaches at the gymnasium, which makes being a leader something she’s familiar with.
"They’re always looking for a little bit of advice and it’s always fun to just be there," she said. "… I’ve been the oldest almost every year I’ve gone. Most of the times I have gone it’s been me and some new athletes. It’s just routine I guess."
Empey will be competing in the Provincial 5 open event — for gymnasts 14 and older — along with Taylor Goodon. Shea Taylor will be in the Provincial 5 novice age group, while Quinn Skrupa is in the Provincial 5 tyro event.
Brook Bradshaw is in the Provincial 4 novice competition, which is invitational and does not have teams representing the provinces like the Provincial 5 age groups.
Lorie Henderson, an Eagles coach, hopes her girls can bring home a couple medals from the event. Taylor and Skrupa are both provincial champions, but this will be their first time at westerns and as part of Team Manitoba. It’s also Goodon’s first trip with Team Manitoba, and Henderson knows that can cause girls to be a little more excited and get them out of their routines.
However, she has a lot of faith in her gymnasts.
"They stand as good a chance as anybody," she said. "Quinn and Shea are both provincial champions, so if they hold themselves together they should be able to place in the top three. Alex has been a number of times, so it’s hard to say. She has a lot of experience and did quite well last year. For Taylor it’s a brand new experience and her first year in this level at all. For her, it’s all about experience and she’s on a good team so hopefully the team will come away with something."
Although she has been at a handful of Western Canadian championships before and she finished third all-around at provincials, there could be even more pressure on Empey this week. The 18-year-old Vincent Massey graduate, who was part of the provincial championship team last year and won individual gold in uneven bars and bronze on the beam, knows her time in gymnastics may be coming to end soon.
For the last few years she’s been debating whether or not it would be her last westerns as an athlete. She’s contemplating her future again this spring and wants to go out on a high if this is her final competition.
"Right now I’m saying it’s my last year, but who knows. Maybe I’ll come back next year, but I haven’t quite decided yet," she said. "… You always want to finish on a good note and push yourself so you know you’ve done what you can."
While those five Brandonites are in Saskatoon, Isabela Onyshko will be in Croatia competing in her second World Cup event. Onyshko won a bronze medal on her floor routine in her debut on the World Cup circuit last month in Qatar.