Emma Leathem has been one of the territory’s best gymnasts for quite some time but now she’s the answer to a trivia question.

The 17-year-old is back home after competing at the Gymnastics National Championships in Richmond, B.C., late last month. In doing so, she became the first female gymnast from the NWT to ever participate in the event, and she certainly didn’t disappoint.

She said her time there was simply awesome.

“It was a great experience and it was a thrill to be able to say that I’ve accomplished something like that,” she said.

Leathem competed on the vault and uneven bars only, meaning she wasn’t in contention for the all-around as she didn’t do the floor or beam. Still, she made the most of her time as she qualified for the vault final and finished eighth overall, becoming the first female NWT gymnast to place in an event final.

She said a top-10 finish was a hopeful placing beforehand.

“I just wanted to go in, do my best and see where that would lead me,” she said. “It was awesome just to know that I am a top-10 vaulter and have the ability to finish in that area.”

The result is a bit more impressive when one realizes that Leathem hurt her knee during training. That meant she didn’t go as hard leading up to the main event, saving her best efforts for when she needed it.

“I was taking it really easy during training,” she said. “I went up for the vault, told myself this was my one chance, I did it, I nailed it, and I felt very strong about it.”

John Tram, Leathem’s coach, said it was one of the best vaults he’s ever seen, and it also had a higher degree of difficulty than many others.

“Vault is one apparatus where it’s really hard to stick the landing,” he said. “Her vault was one of the harder ones — a handspring front-tuck — and that had a start (scoring) value of 10.0. A lot of the other athletes weren’t doing 10.0 starts so that was awesome to see. We saved her knee as best we could and luckily, she was all good that day.”

Leathem, who’s a veteran of the Western Canadian Championships, Arctic Winter Games and Canada Winter Games, said competing at the national championships was a much different experience from anything she’s ever done.

“Western Canadians is just those from Western Canada, whereas nationals is much more competitive,” she said. “You’ve got Quebec and Ontario, who are the strongest teams in Canada.”

The intimidation factor wasn’t there at all, she added, as she’s used to being part of small teams whenever she travels.

“I’ve gone to competitions by myself in the past but I’m getting used to it,” she said. “I felt really good going into nationals and I felt good at what I was bringing to the competition. We trained really hard before we went and I was reaching my peak, everything was consistent and I felt strong.”

Tram knows a thing or two about nationals as he was the first athlete — male or female — to represent the territory on three occasions: 2002, 2005 and 2006, the latter year being the most successful result for a NWT gymnast to date when he won bronze on the rings.

He said he did whatever he could to make Leathem comfortable.

“I talked about my experience and everything I knew to prepare her as best as possible — just try and make her relaxed so she didn’t feel any kind of pressure and to just be in the moment to focus on herself,” he said. “That’s how you achieve the best results: not being distracted by anything and focusing on the right things, setting the right goals.”

Not being able to compete for the better part of the last three years was also a worry, he added.

“She didn’t have her best result at Westerns (back in April) because she was just coming back into the sport but she worked hard and she peaked right at nationals,” he said. “We had no idea of what her standing would be before nationals because we haven’t had competitions for a while and it’s hard to predict where the other teams are at. I knew she could do well and it just had to be good on that day but she did awesome.”

As for her future gymnastics endeavours, Leathem isn’t sure what she will be doing as she’s focusing on school. She just graduated from St. Pat’s and is weighing her post-secondary options.

“When I figure it out, we’ll see how it goes,” she said.

Tram added, “It’s hard because there aren’t any university competitions in Canada. It’s all about seeing what works out best for her but school should be number one for her.”

As for being that trivia question answer? It feels awesome, said Leathem, but also a good feeling knowing she’s started the path for female gymnasts in the territory to compete at the Gymnastics National Championships.

“I’m proud to be able to say I was the first female,” she said. “It feels awesome to accomplish what I did.”

James McCarthy

After being a nomad around North America following my semi-debauched post-secondary days, I put down my roots in Yellowknife in 2006. I’ve been keeping this sports seat warm with NNSL for the better...

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