First Junior International gymnast at Eclipse - Kiralee Blythe
Updated: Mar 18, 2019
Written by David Hill, Director and Head Coach
What does Junior International mean? Basically, it is the level after Level 10 and before Senior International. Gymnasts at Senior International are eligible to be selected for Australian teams to compete at international events including World Championships and Olympic Games.
As we celebrate Kiralee’s achievement in being the first gymnast in Eclipse’s 26 year history to qualify at Junior International, we should pause to celebrate and recognise all the people who have contributed to this “Individual” achievement. I admit to being a little emotional as I have been privileged to watch this determined, wiry, little ball of energy develop into one of the best gymnasts Eclipse has ever produced.
Firstly (and this is not in any order of importance) her coaches in her beginning years, Alison and Emily Hill, who nurtured and developed Kiralee’s love of gymnastics. This love would help her progress to a level where she now trains 23 hours a week and, rain, hail or shine, feeling tired or sore, frustrated or anxious, excited or nervous, she never misses a training session week in, week out through 50 weeks of the year. This wasn’t the only gift that Alison and Emily gave Kiralee. They gave her the gift of great skill foundations and encouraged a desire to constantly challenge herself to be her best.
I continued Kiralee’s development as I have now worked with Kiralee for the last 5 years. The vision and goal was to develop the best basics on which to build great high level gymnastics skills, without placing a limit on where that pathway could take Kiralee. Ultimately, where she wanted to go was her decision. Our job as coaches was to provide the safest, most positive, effective and efficient learning environment possible to help develop this child to her potential.
It is at this point that we must recognise her amazing parents. We all make sacrifices for our children to help them achieve their dreams and potential, and supporting a high level gymnast requires a significant commitment of money and time, not to mention the mental, emotional and physical challenges of dealing with frustration, failure and injury. They supported Eclipse through the competitive gymnastics journeys of Kiralee’s two older sisters, and that support has continued through the process of Kiralee’s development without question, trusting the coaching staff with many decisions about Kiralee’s current and future development, and for that we couldn’t be more thankful. I have no doubt they would have been immensely proud of Kiralee, as indeed the entire Eclipse organisation was, as she qualified at Junior International.
We should thank her older sisters too. They had success at their own levels in their gymnastics, but they were role models for Kiralee as they didn’t miss training, worked to achieve their goals, dealt with their own individual challenges in working to achieve their own potential. I remember Kiralee talking excitedly about one day competing in venues and competitions that she had years earlier watched her older sister, Paige, compete in.
We have recognised her sisters as role models, and there are many other gymnasts that have provided wonderful, inspiring examples for Kiralee to aspire to and emulate. Tori Harris and Emily Hill were Level 10 gymnasts as Kiralee was starting her competitive gymnastics journey back at Level 4. She couldn’t have had any better role models for work ethic, focus, resilience, teamwork and selflessness, than these two wonderful young women who now lead the Eclipse organisation as senior coaches.
Her current teammates are also to be commended and recognised for their support of Kiralee. Not only this past weekend as many of them attended her qualification competition, but also as they have supported her through her many achievements over the last couple of years. But the feeling is certainly not one way, and one of Kiralee’s strengths is her love and admiration of her teammates, regardless of their level, and the excitement she shows when one of them achieves or competes a new skill.
To the many others who have helped Kiralee along this journey, we wish to express our sincere appreciation. To Helen Chamberlain who has guided Kiralee and her coaches with wise counsel related to what judges at the “international level” will look for. To Bounce Physio, Jenni Candler, who has managed Kiralee through many minor and some not so minor injuries, and her assistance in connecting us with Bounce strength and conditioning specialist, Brooke Steindl, who helped developed a strength program to rival the best in Victoria. To Jeb Silsbury at Waverley, one of the best bars coaches in Australia, who has been so generous with his time and expertise in helping me develop and perfect Kiralee’s impressive array of bars, tumbling and vault skills. And most recently to Regan Molyneaux, Gymnastics Australia (GA) High Performance Women’s National Pathways Coach, and Graham Turner, High Performance Sports Coaching consultant, for their advice and support in helping Eclipse provide the optimal pathway for Kiralee’s current and longer term development.
I asked Kiralee a question during the warm up at the qualification competition this past weekend. The question was ”Do you feel like you belong?” I was totally confident that she was in the right place, this was the right challenge for her talent, and in my mind she had earnt this and deserved to be here. I was trying to determine if SHE felt the same way. Her response, albeit laced with normal competition nerves, was “I’m not sure”. I now realise my question was probably interpreted as a comparison to the friendly and comfortable training environment she experiences every day when she trains at Eclipse, not that the International athletes she was competing with were necessarily unfriendly, they were simply focussed and very well drilled. At the end of the competition, before Kiralee had found out whether she had qualified at the Junior International level, I again asked her “do you feel you belong now?” The answer was unreservedly “Yes!” and this time I knew from her response that she meant that she felt like she “deserved” to be at this level.
That response is the ultimate celebration and recognition of the success of a team that works tirelessly with Kiralee directly and behind the scenes to ensure she has every opportunity to develop her potential. With a lot more fun and much hard work ahead, we look forward to the next chapter of this exciting journey for Kiralee.