Athlete Spotlight: Grace Jenkins

Port Hope’s Grace Jenkins loves sports and working out.

“I just love to be active and being physically active also helps with my mental health and I’ve been in sports since I was really young,” the 16-year-old says.

Grace’s main sport is gymnastics and she has already been training for 13 years. She began at the age of three after not taking to the dance classes her parents signed her up for.

Gymnastics proved to be what Grace was looking for and continues to excel at Hearts Gymnastics Club in Port Hope.

“I love the feeling of flying and the adrenaline rush you get from doing gymnastics and I love feeling strong and powerful,” she says. “All of those things apply in gymnastics. It’s also taught me a lot in life so at Hearts Gymnastics I learned respect and discipline and just how to be, not even just a focused person, but a focused athlete.”

Grace joined the competitive program at Hearts Gymnastics when she was eight under the direction of head coach Bev Laviolette. Winning a silver medal at the provincial championships in the floor exercise is one of her competition highlights in recent years.

“Floor always gives me a chance to perform and I always find myself that I’m least nervous when I’m doing floor because it’s not like I can really fall off of anything and I get a chance to be powerful and not hold back,” Grace says, noting the floor discipline still comes with challenges, of course. “You have music that you have to follow so you have to stay on time, keep your rhythm and you’re presenting as well so you want to keep that smile on your face and just have a nice presentation overall.” 

Grace considers her strongest events to be floor and vault whereas she’s struggled more on the beam and bars. 

“On beam when I was younger I used to shake, not necessarily because I was nervous, but because of how excited I was and how much adrenaline I had when we’re competing,” she says. “My biggest challenge was probably to learn to overcome that.”

Currently training at Level 6, Grace is one step away from the national level.

“My goal for the next time I compete is to hopefully go Level 7 so there’s just more skills and a higher difficulty of the skills that you’re doing so that’s what I hope to achieve next,” remarked Grace, who also talked about her future aspirations. “Since I was younger I always watched NCAA so I would love to be able to do college gymnastics in the future.”

While provincial restrictions have disrupted her gymnastics schedule, Grace would regularly train a minimum of 20 hours per week (five hours, four days a week). She’s fortunate, she says, that her father Scott is a personal trainer and she takes full advantage of the opportunity to work out. She also continues to run six days a week.

Grace wants to be ready to compete whenever the opportunity arises.

In addition to being a high-level gymnast, she also began playing rugby at a young age and continued at St. Mary Catholic Secondary School in Cobourg before also earning a spot with Team Ontario. 

Running is another strength. In elementary school, she regularly won the 400 metres event at the regional meet and achieved great results in the 200 metres as well. She hasn’t had the opportunity yet to compete at the high school track level. 

Her lone opportunity so far, in Grade 9, to compete in high school cross-country running proved successful. She qualified with her St. Mary teammates to compete at the OFSAA provincial championship meet.

Grace also enjoyed some unexpected success in swimming, winning a gold medal in the 50-metre backstroke at the Central Ontario Secondary School Athletics championships, despite never swimming competitively prior to joining the St. Mary team.

“I only joined swimming as rehab because I had broken my wrist previously that year,” she says. “My coaches and my parents were telling me I should start to ease back into stuff and the swimming opportunity came up so I decided to try it out. At first I didn’t believe I had won at COSSA. My coaches kept telling me and I was like ‘there’s no way’ because I had never competed in swimming before so I didn’t even understand how the competitions necessarily worked so it was a big surprise.”

Grace joined the June 10 episode of the Total Sports Northumberland podcast to talk about her sports background and also chat with the 2004 Olympic champion in artistic gymnastics Kyle Shewfelt. 

You can listen to the questions and answers here:

You can listen to the full episode. Check out the links below.

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About the Author: Jeff Gard