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Heather Purnell

Ottawa's Heather Purnell may have been the youngest senior women's competitor at the 2001 Canadian Gymnastics Championships, but that didn't stop her from giving a breakthrough performance at that level. Competing against many of the gymnasts who will be representing Canada at the upcoming World Championships, Purnell finished a solid fourth place in the all-around, a testament to the fact that her previous national successes as a novice and junior competitor were no fluke.

Shortly following the National Championships, staff writer Christopher Scott had the chance to ask Purnell some questions about her gymnastics past, and her hopes for the future - in this exclusive interview.

Personal Facts:

Club: Ottawa Gymnastics Centre, Ottawa, ON
Coach: Tobie Goreman and Lori Iurello
Age: 14 (15 November 5th)
Level: Senior High Performance
Most Memorable National Competition:1999 Nationals (B.C) 1st AA
Most Memorable International Competition: Florida 2000 (Gasparilla Classic) placed 2nd AA
Favourite Event: Floor Exercise
Purnell at 2001 Elite Ontario How did it feel to win your first Canadian all-around title as a novice in 1999?

HEATHER PURNELL: Winning my first national championships in 1999 made me very happy and I felt as though all of my hard work had paid off. When you won the junior national all-around title in 2000, you were the first since Theresa Wolf nearly 10 years earlier to win back to back titles as a novice/junior competitor. Were you aware of this achievement and how were you able to make the jump from novice to junior high performance competition so successfully?

HP: I was not aware of that at the time, no. Training hard and consistently trying to be better made the jump from novice to junior a lot easier. Plus, there were two other girls at my club who were already junior, so I tried to keep up with them. Your club is fairly new to this level of competition. What impact do you think this has had on your career so far? To what do you attribute your club's current rise to national prominence?

HP: Having the club being fairly new to the senior category is good because it doesn't put any pressure on me and when I do well people respect me for being able to do that at such a high competition level. I think I help the athletes at my club feel like being a national gymnast and doing well is a more of a reachable goal and not just a dream.

Purnell at 2001 Elite Ontario Tell us about your coaches. Do they work with you on specific events?

HP: Right now I have two coaches, Tobie Gorman and Lori Ierullo. Both of them coach me on all events and both of them evenly contribute to my gymnastics. Last year I also had Rod Hounsell as a coach. He coached me on bars and vault and tumbling for floor. All three of my coaches helped me win junior championships and come fourth as a senior. What impact did your first coach, Joan Honeywell, have on you?

HP: Joan Honeywell got me interested in gym and made me realize how much I liked it. What is it like training with other high performance athletes like Melanie Banville and Amanda Ratz?

HP: Training with other high performance athletes makes me want to be better and realize that I have to keep working hard because skills don't just come to you. Have you had the chance to attend training camps with the national coach Andrei Rodionenko and if so, how has this experience helped with the development of your gymnastics?

HP: Yes, I have been to training camps with Andrei and he helps me with a lot of technique things and he gives me exercises for new skills. The Ottawa club is known for their energetic style on floor and beam. Who does the choreography?

HP: Tobie usually does my choreography and she is working on a new floor routine for me right now but Lori does choreography as well. They each have certain gymnasts they work with. You have competed for team Canada a few times IN Canada (Bluewater, Gymnastic Challenge 2000). Do you hope to represent Canada internationally at any competitions outside of Canada this year?

HP: Yes, I do. I hope to represent Canada at the Junior Pan Ams in Mexico this September. What skills did you find the hardest to learn?

HP: I think the skill that I found the hardest to learn was the shoot half to handstand (on bars). You had to miss a few months of competition (2000 Ontario Tour Selection and Elite Canada). What injuries were you dealing with and how have you managed to overcome them?

Purnell at 2001 Elite Ontario

HP: Last year I didn't go to those competitions because I broke my ankle and damaged the ligaments. I recovered from that with lots of physio and many exercises. Obviously your family is very athletic. What impact has this had on your gymnastics career?

HP: In the first place, since my family is athletic, they got me into sports when I was very young. They also understand how hard I work and what I do. At what age did the Olympics become a goal for you? What specifically do you think it will take to reach that goal?

HP: The Olympics has always been a dream for me but I never thought that I could actually get there. Now it seems that I might actually reach it some day. It will take a lot of commitment and hard work, but I think I can do it. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us. Good luck in trying to achieve your goals.
HP: You're welcome.

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