On April 12, 2019, Grade 7 student Isobel Neilson gave a near flawless performance and became the Junior Olympic 6 Women’s Artistic Gymnastics All-Around Provincial Champion, taking home the gold medal for her Saanich-based Falcon Gymnastics squad. Isobel also won provincial medals for gold on floor, silver on beam, and bronze on uneven bars. What’s more, her amazing performance came just days after a serious injury.

The week of her biggest competition of the year, while practicing pirouettes in her driveway, the 13-year-old slipped and came crashing down on her tailbone, rendering her unable to walk. Isobel had to take time away from school to receive intensive IMS needling and physiotherapy treatments. After taking two days rest from her training, her body began to recover and, by squeezing in a three-hour training session Thursday afternoon just before the Friday competition, Isobel was able to take the stage in Port Coquitlam, BC. What came as a shock, however, was just how well she performed, having spent a scant five days recovering.

“For a girl who couldn’t even walk just days before, it was pretty outstanding,” said Isobel’s father, Jamie Neilson. “We’re super grateful for St. Margaret’s and how flexible the school has been around Isobel’s training, physiotherapy and competition schedule. Ms. Scott and the school have been incredible, providing her with a study block during her Wednesday P.E. to catch up on her homework, and Mr. Jones and Ms. Carvalho have been equally supportive in accommodating her rigorous schedule.”

Isobel, who competes in the Junior Olympic stream of gymnastics is no ordinary girl. At age four, she learned how to do a cartwheel and did 100 the first day. Shortly after that, she started walking on her hands and her parents realized it was time to enroll Isobel, then just five-years-old, in gymnastics.

Isobel quickly outgrew recreational gymnastics and at age six, she joined the pre-competitive stream before climbing the ranks to the Junior Olympic level.

Gymnastics is unlike many other sports—athletes specialize at an early age and the training schedule is extremely demanding. Isobel trains Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings from 4:30 pm to 8:30 pm. On Sundays, she trains from 8:30 am to 12:30 pm, and on Tuesday and Thursday mornings she does strength and conditioning at the rec centre with her dad before school. To say her schedule is grueling is an understatement!

Isobel also competes in five to six competitions a year. Recently, she spent four days on the road in Eugene, Oregon, competing at the Emerald Team Challenge as a senior member of her Falcon Gymnastics team. The American event saw over 700 athletes competing, and Isobel took home a sixth-place finish in the vault.

“Because of her experience with Outweek, Camp Bernard, and Strathcona, Isobel was confident spending multiple nights away from home without mom and dad. While some kids don’t feel comfortable on their own, SMS has prepared her for these types of situations, which I think is advantageous,” said Jamie.

“It’s all about passion. When you are training as much as I do, it comes with a lot of sacrifices, but I continue to do it because I’m so passionate about it. There are times when I don’t feel like training as much, when I’m injured or tired, but most of the time I’m excited to get into the gym,” said Isobel.

“My favourite part about gymnastics is getting to train and spend time with people who are passionate about the same thing as me.”

Isobel excels at her balance beam and floor routines, performing to Shakira’s “Objection Tango” scoring 9.2 to win the gold medal.  Isobel is not planning to slow down anytime soon. Her drive to persevere and overcome obstacles is part of what makes her the epitome of a St. Margaret’s Girl.

SMS prides itself on empowering girls to shape their own dreams by providing flexible schedules and time tables that allow students to pursue excellence in whatever path they choose.