In 2002, 14-year old Sarah Chapman was on top of the world. The award winning champion gymnast was training 35 hours a week and well on her way to the 2004 summer Olympics, when the unthinkable happened… she was pushed down by a fellow classmate at school; she felt her elbow pop out and although it went back in, it was never to be the same. The heavy training load added to the stress of the injury and shortly after the fall Sarah found out from a doctor that her radius (one of the bones in your forearm) had split in half. Horrifying news was relayed to her from the doctors, Sarah, they claimed, would never be able to do any sort of gymnastics for the rest of her life.
The injury ceased all training immediately, and Chapman focused strictly on healing. Her routine at the Kips Gymnastic Club was reduced to 3-hours a day, where she remained dedicated to a strengthening and stretching regiment. A year of tireless devotion to healing and Sarah was ready to start training again. She had proven the doctors wrong and was practicing gymnastics again, however, the excitement of having conquered all doubts was short lived… After missing a year of training and competitions and just starting back into the heavy training routine again, the Olympics were no longer on the horizon. By age 16, Sarah knew her career as a competitive gymnast had ended.
The overwhelming blanket of depression and helplessness that would have smothered most people, did not cover Chapman, and since then, there have been hundreds of Cambridge kids who have benefitted from her strength to carry on. Chapman never gave up, she just redirected her efforts in gymnastics, and turned to coaching.
A few minutes with this smiling beauty and I found myself nodding fervently to her beliefs and priorities as a coach. After listening to what is most important to her, I wished my kids were still young enough to be part of her team. After looking at comments by gymnasts and parents about Sarah on Facebook, I decided I didn’t need kids, I should really be the one following this woman anywhere!
That being said, my age and skill level may not be up to par for the elite group of athletes Sarah leads. Sarah’s competitive team are those 7 to 15-year olds that qualify for levels 4-7. Level qualification is based on skill, not age, through a standardized SAMS testing process.
There are 12 girls in total, 6 training in the level 4-5 group, and 6 training in the level 6-7 group. Sarah spends 16 hours with each group, the girls spending nights, weekends and a half day missed from school to train. “There is never an issue of making up for missed school work, the team has great discipline and incredibly positive attitudes” Sarah proudly informs me.
The girls are trained on the bars, the beam, the vault, and floor routines. They are also responsible for keeping a journal of short and long term goals, strategies and accomplishments, making them a collaborative part of their regiment, and accountable for all actions in and out of the gym.
All girls are aiming at winning the Provincial Championships, but Sarah, true to her loving bubbly personality, also feels that there is a lot more she can help develop in the girls. “It is really important that the team is happy and successful and that they are not just physically fit but mentally fit as well.” Explains Sarah who feels that the goal setting and problem solving skills learned in the gym can easily be transferred to life outside the Kips. “The team is very supportive of each other, in the gym and out”. Parents are equally impressed with Sarah. Crystal Wrightson, whose daughter was coached by Sarah from 17-months until 3-years admires Sarah’s style with a great deal of repect, “Sarah is a very warm and cheerful person. I never saw her without a smile on her face and my daughter LOVED coach Sarah.”
Sarah’s greatest joy in coaching is the reward seeing her team reach goals they set for themselves and move on to their own next personal challenge. It is also important to her for her girls to know there is no such thing as failure – sometimes you just need to redirect your energies and keep on going. No one does this better than Sarah! She is a true inspiration and will always remain one of Cambridges most loved hero’s in recent history!