Representing her country on the international stage was a dream come true for Amanda Sha.
“It was a pretty big deal for me,” said the member of the Canadian rhythmic gymnastic team that performed at the recent Junior Pan Am Gymnastics Championships in Havana, Cuba. “It was a really big honour to compete with gymnasts of that calibre and just to be in their presence was pretty cool too.”
Sha, 14, contributed to the silver medal showing by Canada in the team all-around event with her floor routines in rope and ball. The Edmonton Rhythmic Gymnastics Club (ERGC) member was joined on the podium by teammates Elisabeth Kazakov of Calgary, Maria Kitkarska of Montreal and Kaitlyn James of Toronto. The United States finished first and Brazil was third.
“To win a medal was pretty awesome,” Sha said. “Just being able to contribute to the highest scores that were counted made it exciting for myself.”
Her coach, Judit Berecz, was impressed with Sha’s effort in rope.
“Throughout the season her rope score was the strongest one. She keeps it very clean. Usually rope routines are really messy because the rope doesn’t take any nervousness as an apparatus. As soon as somebody is nervous the rope picks it up right away,” Berecz said. “She just handles it very well so the rope doesn’t actually react to it.”
Sha described her pre-routine jitters as excited nervousness.
“In rope there was some problems with the lighting and the music and by the time I went on I was just grateful that I got to go at that point. I had been in the gym for awhile,” said the Grade 9 Vincent J. Maloney student. “I was happy with my performances in Cuba but there are always places to improve. When I go to compete, I compete against myself. I try and do better for myself. You can’t really look at scores because there are different things that can affect that, so you just try and be clean and consistent.”
Rounding out the five apparatuses in rhythmic gymnastics are the hoop, clubs and ribbon. Individual exercises are performed to music and limited to 90 seconds per apparatus. Emphasis is placed on mastery and agility in order to achieve top marks from the judges.
“It’s a little intimidating [performing for the judges], but I like competing. You get to show what you’ve been training for during the whole year and as long as you focus and stay in the moment you should be fine,” said Sha.
“I was pretty blown away I got to go. It was pretty unexpected actually but very exciting,” she said. “It’s such an honour to be assigned to competitions of such a high calibre.”
Her next big goal is to compete at the 2010 Elite Canada championships and make the junior national team.
“You have to be top 10 out of all the juniors,” she said.
At the 2009 event she made finals in clubs and ropes with top-eight finishes.
“It’s invitation only so you have to qualify from nationals to get there. You go to westerns first and then nationals and then Elite Canada, but you’ve got to qualify for all of them,” said Sha, who has made it to nationals every year she was eligible to qualify.
Berecz has high hopes for her prized pupil.
“This is a very subjective sport but if she made the national team for Canada in the junior level I would not be surprised. Her flexibility has got much better,” said Berecz, who is also an international judge in the sport.
Sha got hooked on the graceful form of gymnastics the first time she saw it six years ago.
“When I was younger we were walking through West Edmonton Mall and Judit Berecz’s daughter, Judy, was doing a demonstration with her club and I said to my mom [Pauline] that I wanted to do that,” she said. “ I started in the St. Albert rec program [at Fountain Park pool] with Judit Berecz and then I eventually got to the national level club which is at the Kinsmen Sports Centre.
“I really like competing and it’s really fun practicing the elements. My coach is really helpful too and I’m learning new things.”
Sha trains four to five hours a day for about 20 hours a week. Sundays are her day off. She also squeezes in a couple of days of ballet into her busy schedule.
“We don’t normally train over the summer. My coach believes in letting our muscles rest and for us to do other things to stay active so we have about one and a half months off,” Sha said.
“Right now I’m doing extra hours but it’s kind of a preparation thing while we’re making and finishing routines. After Christmas is when the crunch happens and it gets really, really intense. That’s when we do more routines with music and more body technique.”
The strenuous activity of combining the technical handling of the apparatuses with the mastery of body expression keeps the five-foot-five and 97-pound Sha in peak condition.
“It’s definitely an endurance kind of thing,” she said. “The routines are pretty intense. You get kind of tired but we’re used to it.”