The team members were wearing their Gemini Gymnastics gear with either “Go Geminis” or “Go Kristina” written on their foreheads as they sat on the floor watching their own, Kristina Vaculik, on TV perform at the 2012 Olympics.
It was then among the cheering, 16-year-old Ana Padurariu, felt something click inside her. She realized performing at the same level Vaculik did was something she wanted to do.
As the youngest finalist at the 2018 Artistic Gymnastics World Championships in Doha, Qatar on November 3, Padurariu was on her way to earn a silver medal for her balance beam routine.
Padurariu has been a gymnast for 12 years, earning 13 awards varying between team and individual competitions.
She started her journey at Gemini Gymnastics when she was four years old. Her parents described her as energetic and signed her up for an array of sports and activities.
“I did swimming but I got sick all the time, like after one practice I’d come home with an ear infection or the flu,” recalls Padurariu. “I did piano and guitar, I did dance, I did quite a few (things).”
Gymnastics was the one activity that stuck.
“When I was little, I was really fearless,” said Padurariu with bright eyes. “I don’t remember ever getting nervous or scared for anything until I was like 10.”
Being at Gemini Gymnastics for so long, Padurariu says she considers everyone of her teammates and coaches as part of her family.
She says before she leaves for a competition, her teammates give her little gifts or cards with ‘good luck’ written inside. Little things like those really touch her heart and make her feel like she’s cared about, she says.
“I try to support them as much as I can and they support me and that’s all what gymnastics is about,” says Padurariu “It’s not just an individual sport … you have to be close with your teammates.”
Former Olympian, Gemini Gymnastics owner and head coach, Elena Davydova, has been at Gemini Gymnastics for 27 years. She’s watched many of her students grow up and considers them as her own children.
“I’m really emotionally involved in everything that they do and definitely care about them a lot,” says Davydova.
While her team and coaches fill Padurariu’s heart with their kind words, she knows they’ll be therein tougher times as well.
She says there’s been many times where she’s felt unhappy about a routine but the most recent was the team finals at the Artistic Gymnastics World Championships. As the only one who fell, she felt as if she let the team down.
“It’s not the best feeling,” says Padurariu. “Elena and all my teammates like, even though I felt like I let them down, they were so supportive.”
Davydova also takes pride in her coaching because she is always encouraging her students to give it their all. She says if they do their best, they should be happy with their progress, even if they don’t feel well.
As for her students’ outlook on a performance, the former Olympian understands it can be easy to get frustrated.
“They can choose to behave different, choose to be frustrated and slap their legs and give up,” says Davydova. “I’m saying no, it’s not OK for athletes to behave this way.”
Davydova explains sports are about self-discipline.
Athletes can choose to have a bad attitude, but should take their frustration and put it into their work instead. Be “feisty”, not frustrated.
Even though Padurariu fell, the opportunities she’s been able to have in her career makes it difficult for her to feel anything but ecstatic. She’s been able to travel across the world to places such as Italy, France and the most recent, Qatar.
“It’s pretty crazy … not a lot of people get the opportunity to travel the world and to do it by doing something you love,” says Padurariu.
She goes on to explain how she didn’t understand how fortunate she was until she spoke with other people who never been outside of Canada.
Even though she travelled to Doha, Qatar for the Artistic Gymnastics World Championships, Padurariu felt star struck when she met 21-year-old Simone Biles.
Biles was in the 2016 Olympics and earned two gold medals for her vault and floor routines and a bronze medal for her balance-beam.
Biles also earned a bronze medal for her balance-beam routine at the Artistic Gymnastics World Championships. Padurariu scored 14.100 for her silver medal routine which was .500 points more than Biles’.
Davydova says it’s a big achievement for a Canadian team to earn a medal at the Artistic Gymnastics World Championships.
“We didn’t even think of it,” says Davydova. “(It’s) a result of those trainings (they) go through everyday … and some days it’s really tough … but I’m not letting her give up.”
Neither are her parents, who immigrated to Canada from Romania before Padurariu was born. Padurariu jokes about how she would ask her parents why they let her keep going for so long but other days she thanks them immensely.
“My teammates, my family and my coaches, they’re a big part of this experience,” says Padurariu. “Without them I wouldn’t be where I am.”