At the age of 14, Serra Gillis is using her passion for gymnastics to take her further than any Prince Albert youth has gone in the sport before.
Last weekend, Gillis qualified for Elite Canada; a competition attended by the best athletes in the country. She is the first person from the P.A. Aerials Gymnastics Club to compete at such a level, and one of only a handful of Saskatchewan gymnasts, period.
“It means a lot, because I get to represent Saskatchewan when many people want to, but don’t have the capability to,” Gillis said. “For me to have the responsibility to do that, I’m very grateful and honoured. It’s very exciting.”
Gillis has a discipline level far and above most other people her age; she rarely allows herself any “junk.” Her diet consists of foods rich in nutrients, like lean meat and leafy greens. She won’t participate in P.E. class at school because she can’t risk an injury.
She trains over 24 hours a week. In order to make the time commitment work, she’s made a few sacrifices along the way. Gillis said with a smile, outside of the gym she’s down to “one friend.”
But during those rare days when she’s not in the gym, Gillis said she likes to spend her time with family.
“I don’t have many school friends that I like to talk to because they have many different priorities than I do, so they just don’t understand what I have to go through,” Gillis said. “My family understands what I like to do, and what it’s going to cost for me to get there.”
She said her family has been one of the biggest factors in why she still does gymnastics – or never gave up during the hard times – and why she wants to be the best she can be.
Gillis speaks with a maturity not often seen in a 14-year-old. When asked what lessons gymnastics has taught her, she’s easily able to sum it up.
“It teaches me how to work for something, and if I really want it, how to achieve it,” Gillis said. “There is going to be some pain in life, but you’re going to have get through it. You’re going to have to do some things you don’t always like, but you suck it up and do it.”
Gillis hoped to obtain a university scholarship when her gymnastics career is done. She’ll then move onto her next life goal; becoming a veterinarian. But before then, if the odds work in her favour, Gillis would like a shot at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Gillis is facing a lot of pressure going into Elite Canada. She said with the support of her family, friends and long-time coach Mike Amouri, she hoped to manage her stress.
Amouri has been coaching Gillis since she was seven-years-old. Both said they have grown together though gymnastics, and are now set to face one of the biggest challenges of their respective careers.
“To this point I’ve had national level athletes, western Canadian level athletes, eastern Canadian level athletes but never anyone who’s attempted this high performance pathway,” Amouri said. “This is a brand new level of stress because the level is the best it can be. When you go out there, it’s not like you can have an okay day. You have to have a great day in order to be competitive.”
He admitted coaching is often a series of trials and errors. He has reached out to other coaches and judges for tips and pointers to make sure him and Gillis are on the right track.
Amouri has coached since the tender age of 12. He took a full-time coaching job in Prince Albert after an “epiphany” while still living and working in Toronto.
“I always really just loved coaching, I always coached no matter what,” Amouri said. “I was working on Bay Street, and I hated my work. I always coached after [my job]… I always thought ‘why am I doing this, I’m so tired.’ But I’d get to the gym and I’d just feel amazing.”
Amouri said Gillis has worked incredibly hard, especially over the last year to get where she is today. After a successful showing at National Championships last season, she’s only wanted more.
“Over the summer, after Nationals [the work ethic] didn’t stop. Instead of [saying] ‘I got my goal,’ and relaxing, it’s kind of fuelled her fire,” Amouri said.
After smashing the qualifying score for Elite Canada by five points, despite a fall on beam and an error on bars, Amouri’s belief was re-affirmed in his athlete’s abilities.
“We celebrated for a day, now we’re back in the gym and we have work to do,” Amouri said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do; I’ve come up with a whole new training plan for the month of December… so now we have to commit to this plan and work it, and work it hard.”
The pair will travel to Halifax the first week of February for the Elite Canada competition.
On Twitter: @BryanEneas
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