Gold bars and beam for local gymnast

Mary-Grace Maurice is passionate about the great outdoors.

The 13-year-old nature lover discovered her appreciation for kayaking, hiking and rock-climbing at a young age, doing those activities with her parents and younger sister.

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She's also become an accomplished gymnast and proved her ability to perform under pressure in two meets over the weekend at her home base at the Prince George Gymnastics Club.

In the Prince George Invitational meet at the Prince George Gymnastics Centre on Saturday, Maurice was the gold medalist in bars and beam and won the Junior Olympic Level 6 overall title. She topped the field in bars and beam again in Sunday's Zone 8 championships and was eighth in the floor event.

Her score on the beam Sunday - 9.4 out of 10 - was a personal best and the key to that was performing two back walkovers, her toughest element.

"I've always been good at it but it's never been my best event," said Maurice, a Duchess Park Grade 8 student who turns 14 in June. "It's fun, but it's scary when I'm competing. I was in Interclub and did do back walkovers but they were always messy and I always fell.

"Bars is my favourite. It's just swinging around and it's less stressful for me. I just find it fun. When a gymnast does a handstand on bars that's what you want and I'm never there. You stop in a handstand and then come back down but I/m like 45 degrees (instead of 90 degrees)."

Coached by Storm Garcia, Maurice practices at the same times as Alia Wilson, who just got back from winning two silver medals at the Western Canadian championships. The 16-year-old Wilson has earned a spot on Team B.C. for the national championships in Ottawa, May 21-26 and Maurice tries to earn as much as she can from her.

"She's four levels above me and I watch her quite a bit," said Maurice. "She's quite a bit more talented. She's the highest level in the gym."

It's unusual for a gymnast to advance two levels from season to season but that's what Maurice did, moving from Level 4 to Level 6. She started recreational gymnastics at a young age and did that for two years.

Now at the end of her second year of competitive gymnastics, Maurice's background as a wall crawler at Overhang, the city's indoor climbing facility, is serving her well. It gave her a jumpstart on the strength and conditioning she needs now that her primary focus is hanging onto uneven bars, executing handstands on 10-centimetre-wide balance beams and performing the quick twists and body contortions required for the vault and floor exercise.

"I was into climbing for a very long time and that also helped me with my gymnastics, Maurice said. "Now, when I come back to climbing obviously I'm not as good as I was before but I haven't lost most of my skills because I've kept it up with gymnastics.

"I'm getting more consistency. I think its from competing more, training more and getting more used to everything I'm doing."

As her own critic, she says her vaults are too plain and she needs to get better at tumbling to get better scores on the floor. Known around the gym for strong work ethic and sportsmanlike attitude, Maurice has one more meet on her competition calendar and if the weather holds she will be walking the beam and leaping the vault outdoors at the Whistler Summer Classic, June 21-23 in Whistler.

"I've never done an outdoor meet, I love being outdoors and I love gymnastics so it's a great combination," said Maurice. "I'm just a little paranoid theres going to be wasps when I'm competing. I'm not allergic, they just scare me.

"We go outdoor climbing a lot as a family, normally at Squamish," she said. "My dad has done The Chief multiple times and he did El Capitan (in Yosemite national park in California) as well."

The back-to-back meets and Interclub competition that followed Sunday afternoon made the weekend events the largest, participation-wise, in the Prince George Gymnastics Club history.

In other Prince George club results, Saige Lupul, 10, won both JO Level 4 competitions. Arianna Vukovic was also a dual overall winner in the Level 3 events. Nine-year-old Kenlee Coleman won JO 3 category overall zone 8 title.

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