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This article was published 2/1/2017 (1631 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Moments before making her Olympic debut, Isabela Onyshko felt a sudden wave of anxiety rush through her.
The 18-year-old gymnast from Brandon is usually calm and focused before performing her balance beam routine but this was different. This was the Summer Olympics and the stakes had never been higher.
The eyes of Canada, especially Westman, were glued on Brandon’s first Olympian in 24 years.
But by Onyshko’s side was her ever-supportive coach, Lorie Henderson, who too was making her Games debut in Rio de Janeiro in August as one of the Canadian women’s artistic gymnastics team’s two floor coaches.
Together, the Brandon Eagles gymnast, who finished eighth in the beam final and 18th in the all-around event, and her longtime coach reached the pinnacle of their sport. For their achievement on the Olympic stage, Onyshko and Henderson are co-winners of The Brandon Sun’s 59th annual H.L. (Krug) Crawford Memorial Award, which epitomizes sporting excellence in southwestern Manitoba.
Onyshko, who was born in Minnedosa, claimed the Krug in 2014 while Henderson has been overlooked for the honour for years. Until now.
"It sort of feels like a surreal year," Onyshko said. "When I really look back on it I really see how everything sort of started to fall into place. There were definitely hard points in the year but they were all worth it and I think one of the fondest memories I have is the qualification round at the Olympics because just being able to go around with my teammates and do that it’s such an honour and a privilege to have been given the opportunity and to have that trust that I could represent our country at the Games."
Henderson, 62, echoed her protege’s remarks.
"It’s pretty surreal actually to go to the Olympics," Henderson said. "When I think back on it now it was pretty fantastic, so many things and it’s something you sort of dream about. I never really thought I would go to the Olympics, I just hoped I’d have an athlete that goes to the Olympics but personally I never thought I would go so that was kind of a nice bonus to get to go and that was thanks to Isabela and how well she performed over the last couple of years, so I lucked out."
"Whether it’s a coach or an athlete or an official, to be able to say that you are an Olympian is something pretty special," she continued.
Henderson’s ride to the Olympics began as a child when she chose gymnastics over swimming because the gym was warmer to practise in than the pool. She eventually became a coach and has been working with young gymnasts for over 45 years — more than 20 with the Brandon Eagles club. Some athletes were very high-calibre, including Jenna Kerbis, the 2006 Krug Award winner. Henderson helped Kerbis to strong finishes at national and international competitions, including the 2006 Commonwealth Games.
She worked for the last few years with Onyshko, who started 2016 strong by nabbing three individual medals at the L’International Gymnix competition in Montreal in early March. Onyshko was golden in the all-around event with a score of 57.550 points, earned silver in the floor event and took bronze on the uneven bars.
Before the month was out, the five-foot-two gymnast finished second in the all-around event at a World Cup competition in Stuttgart, Germany. Her performance on the beam — her best individual apparatus — included a successful yet difficult back somersault with a full twist, which she had only recently added to her repertoire.
In April, Onyshko had two fourth-place finishes — beam and floor — and was 10th all-around at the Aquece Rio Test Event in Brazil.
Despite impressive showings at events on three different continents, Onyshko and Henderson were gearing up for a pair of events in June; nationals in Edmonton followed by the Canadian Olympic gymnastics trials in Gatineau, Que.
She knew a spot on Canada’s Olympic artistic gymnastics team was at stake heading to Edmonton.
"I definitely tried not to think about it and focus on the routines," Onyshko recalled. "You can’t control the outcomes as much as you would like to so I just focused on the process and doing what I had to do to try and execute my routines like I had been in the gym."
Her performance at nationals, winning her first all-around title with a score of 58.550, all but secured her spot in Rio but it wasn’t until she was officially named to the Olympic team on June 30 that Onyshko took a breath.
However, the feeling of being an Olympian didn’t sink in immediately.
"We sort of knew going into (the trials) that I was basically going to make the team but knowing and sort of having it announced is a completely different thing so it was definitely very emotional but it didn’t fully sink in until after qualification at the Olympics," the Vincent Massey graduate admitted. "After that you’ve competed and you can’t really call yourself an Olympian until you’ve competed so at that point in time it really sunk in."
By stepping onto the balance beam in Rio as the first Canadian competitor in the all-around team qualification, Onyshko became the first Brandonite at the Olympics since Angela Doyle (nee Chalmers), a Neelin graduate, won a bronze medal in the women’s 3,000-metre race at the 1992 Barcelona Games.
Prior to Onyshko, Westman’s most recent Olympians were Virden’s Paige Lawrence and Rudi Swiegers, pairs figure skaters who went to the Sochi Games in 2014 and won the Krug Award that year as well.
With her mother Paula and uncle Alvaro in the stands — and supporters from the Brandon Eagles Gymnastics Centre eagerly watching from home — Onyshko anchored the Canadian team in the qualifying round, eventually scoring 57.232 all-around to reach that individual final. Unfortunately for her and Henderson, Canada fell 0.168 points shy of qualifying for the team final.
Onyshko would turn in an 18th-place finish in the all-around final with a score of 56.365. She also reached the beam final with a qualifying score of 14.533, but fell off the beam in the final and scored 13.400 for eighth.
"I was definitely very happy to qualify for the beam final," she said. "Before I went to the Games that was one of the goals I had set out with my coaches but at that time I couldn’t feel that happy. The team was the main focus for me and everyone else going into the Games and we just had some mistakes that sadly didn’t help us.
"Still, I was just honoured to be able to have that opportunity to be in a balance beam final with the best beam athletes in the world."
And with Henderson keeping an ever-present eye on her.
"As the years have gone on we’ve definitely gotten to know each other a lot," Onyshko said of Henderson. "I feel that we can work together and achieve a lot more and it was nice to have her at the Games because it sort of felt like you had someone you could really trust and you really could be relaxed with and for me that felt really good."
Henderson, who was inducted in the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame in 2014, said she couldn’t just take it easy with Onyshko, giving her blood, sweat and tears up to and during the Olympics, noting it was like a 24/7 job.
"Isabela couldn’t take breaks so I really couldn’t take breaks and I just did everything that I could so she could succeed and if that meant not having a holiday then you didn’t have a holiday," Henderson said. "It’s a team effort.
"If the athlete is going to put out that much time and that much effort and that much commitment then you have to equal that. I couldn’t give half and have her give 110 per cent. That’s just not the way it works."
And despite nagging injuries leading up to the Rio Games there was no way she was going to miss out on a chance that only comes around every four years.
"Physically by the time we reached the Games it was ‘Let’s just hold you together.’ My ankles were sore and afterwards we found out I had a fracture in my (left) wrist and a bone bruise in my (left) shoulder so that wasn’t fun but honestly I can say you don’t feel that at all when you are competing," Onyshko said. "I never felt any pain while I was on the floor. And mentally it takes a significant toll."
Onyshko has done some loose training since the Olympics but has spent most of her time relaxing and recovering from injuries. It’s been a difficult adjustment, especially mentally, for her following Rio but she will always look upon 2016 with fondness.
"It’s definitely really special," Onyshko said. "It’s just great and shows that it doesn’t really matter the size of the city you come from as long as you are willing to work hard, have a great support system and great coaches with you, you can go anywhere."
And when the 2020 Tokyo Games arrive, Onyshko hopes to go even further, with Henderson continuing to coach her up.
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KRUG CRAWFORD WINNERS
2016 — Isabela Onyshko and Lorie Henderson, gymnastics
2015 — Braden Calvert, curling
2014 — Isabela Onyshko, gymnastics
2013 — Halli Krzyzaniak, hockey
2012 — Rob Fowler, curling
2011 — Mark Stone, hockey
2010 — Paul Sanderson, volleyball
2009 — Lisa Barclay, volleyball
2008 — Brayden Schenn, hockey
2007 — Mark Derlago, hockey
2006 — Jenna Kerbis, gymnastics
2005 — Eric Fehr, hockey
2004 — Neil Andrews, curling, baseball
2003 — Jordin Tootoo, hockey
2002 — Israel Idonije, football
2001 — Jerry Hemmings, basketball
2000 — Shane Moffatt, baseball
1999 — Reed Eastley, baseball, volleyball
1998 — Cory Cyrenne, hockey
1997 — Grady Manson, hockey
1996 — Carmen Hurd, track and field
1995 — Kelly McCrimmon, hockey
1994 — Pam Flick, basketball
1993 — Marty Murray, hockey
1992 — Sandra Hamilton, basketball
1991 — Joey Vickery, basketball
1990 — Trevor Kidd, hockey
1989 — Shirley Bray, curling
1988 — Patrick Jebbison, basketball
1987 — Mabel Mitchell, curling
1986 — John Carson, basketball
1985 — Al Robertson, baseball
1984 — Ray Ferraro, hockey
1983 — Cathy Woodmass, water skiing
1982 — Jerry Hemmings, basketball
1981 — Diane Ogibowski, figure skating
1980 — Dan Halldorson, golf
1979 — Dunc McCallum, hockey
1978 — Glen Hanlon, hockey
1977 — Dan Halldorson, golf
1976 — Bob Thompson, baseball, hockey
1975 — Karen Anderson, curling, fastball
1974 — Jack Brockest, hockey
1973 — Ron Chipperfield, hockey
1972 — Lawrie Lewis, track and field
1971 — Gary Howard, basketball
1970 — Don Sumner, baseball, curling
1969 — Vailla Hoggan, water skiing
1968 — Buck Matiowski, recreation
1967 — Gerry MacKay, baseball, curling
1966 — Juha Widing, hockey
1965 — Bill Robinson, gymnastics
1964 — Lynda Kidd, basketball, softball
1963 — Earl Dawson, hockey
1962 — Fred Pilcher, curling
1961 — Ron Maxwell, hockey
1960 — Jake Milford, hockey
1959 — Mike Doig, shooting
1958 — Jack Matheson, hockey, golf