Rhythmic gymnast determined to qualify

JESS LEE
Last updated 05:00 23/05/2014
Michelle and Kelly

PROUD MUM: Michelle MacDonald was her daughter Kelly’s ‘‘number one supporter’’.

Kelly MacDonald
TALENTED GYMNAST: Kelly MacDonald credits gymnastics, along with the support of her family, coach and fellow gymnasts, with helping her get through tough times.

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Top rhythmic gymnast Kelly MacDonald, 20, could well make it to the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow this July but sadly her strongest supporter won't be there.

The rhythmic gymnast's mother Michelle died last month, just two weeks before the national qualifiers, after a long battle with cancer.

The second day of the national trial was held on Mother's Day and MacDonald was determined to make her mum proud - managing to get first and second placings.

"It was tough, it's still really tough. That trial on Mother's Day was awful but it helps to know that she really wanted this for me and that's keeping me going," she says.

"Mum and I made this dream when I was 10 or 11. It's been a long time coming."

MacDonald is one of six athletes vying for three places on the New Zealand Commonwealth team.

Her mum was a fashion designer and created the gymnast's intricate costumes.

"What's getting me through this is gymnastics, it's a huge emotional outlet for me."

But there's more to the young Auckland athlete's story.

The Mission Bay resident was diagnosed with epilepsy in January after a having a seizure while she was in America to compete. It was so severe she dislocated her jaw.

She was prescribed medication but is choosing not to take it as she found it affected her ability to perform.

"I try not to think about it because it hasn't been a problem so far and it's not inhibiting my training now."

MacDonald took a break from the sport in 2012 and went to university in Dunedin.

"I did a whole year down there to figure out what I wanted to do but then watched the Olympics and I was like: 'what am I doing? I should be doing gymnastics'," she says.

Her mother's diagnosis came while she was down south and MacDonald went home to be close to her mum and focus on training.

"People thought there was no way I could come back to gymnastics in a year like that; they said it was too hard. But I wasn't going to take no for an answer.

"My mum has been my number one supporter this whole time. I was so lucky."

MacDonald trained upwards of 40 hours a week for that first year to get back on form.

Rhythmic gymnasts must perform a high intensity routine with a club, hoop, ball or ribbon for one and a half minutes.

"Those last 30 seconds at the end are so tough, it's pretty much like sprinting for a minute and a half."

Marnie Sterner has been coaching MacDonald for 10 years and says there is no question she'll make it to the Commonwealth Games.

"She's always been a very talented girl. For her it's going to be a mental game," she says.

"Trying to control emotions is hard. It's hard for any athlete, let alone what she's going through."

MacDonald must go to Australia for one final trial before the New Zealand team is announced in June.

She is fundraising to help cover the costs of travel and equipment.

Go to givealittle.co.nz/cause/rhythmicgymnastforcwg if you can help.

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- East And Bays Courier

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