|Sherry (c. 1978)|
She floated along the balance beam as gracefully and fluidly as a swan gliding alongside a riverbank and so natural in her movement that it was obvious to all that she was truly within her element. When Sherry Hawco mounted the beam, all eyes would turn in her direction and, for the following ninety seconds, she would captivate her audience with sheer elegance.
The seeds of Sherry’s beautiful gymnastics were cultivated when she was a young girl of seven. Even at this age, she displayed well co-ordinated movements during gym classes at Manchester Public School and was tireless in her energy. The Cambridge, Ontario pupil stood out among her peers due to her raw talent, which did not go unnoticed by her physical education teacher, who advised Sherry’s parents to enrol her in gymnastics. It was at the YMCA where Sherry first turned a cartwheel and learned her basic elements in the sport. Sherry’s improvement was so rapid that, within one year, her parents enrolled her at the reputable Cambridge Kips Gymnastics Club, where she became the young protegee of Don and Benita Rope.
The Rope’s philosophy of amassing a great deal of international experience for their gymnasts proved to be quite wise. In 1976, the ever-so-green Sherry traveled to Germany to compete in her first international competition, where she placed highest among her Canadian teammates. After competing at the highest level as a junior athlete, Sherry graduated to the senior national team in 1978. Having an enormous impact on the Canadian gymnastics scene, Sherry performed admirably at the Canadian Nationals and won the individual bronze medal, thus earning a precious spot on the 1978 Commonwealth Games team. Traveling to Edmonton, Alberta in August with teammates, Karen Kelsall, Elfi Schlegel and newcomer, Monica Goermann, fourteen-year-old Sherry wowed the gymnastics community with her exquisite gymnastics and determination. These attributes helped her to win the silver medal in the all-around, tied with the young Goermann. The all-around title was conceded to friend and teammate, 1978 National Champion, Schlegel. Sherry was equally proud of Canada’s tremendous effort in the team competition, in which this tight unit celebrated with the gold medal.
|An Elegant Dancer|
Performing well on the home front at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens later in 1978, Sherry garnered a 5th place finish at the Ontario Cup, behind Montreal Olympic veterans, Anca Grigoras of Romania and teammate, Kelsall, as well as the Soviet, Galina Glutchenko. It was Sherry’s delightful floor exercise routine that caught the eyes of the judges and she scored a 9.50, proving that she could keep pace with the Eastern Europeans. Sherry was not finished pushing the Europeans though and she went on to compete tremendously at the 1978 Riga International, placing 9th in the all-around competition which, until very recently, was the highest placing by a Canadian gymnast at a meet held in the former Soviet Union.
The World Championships in the autumn of 1978 was Sherry’s final meet of the year and certainly the most significant so far of her young career. With little expectations due to her relative inexperience at the world championship level, Sherry could focus on her routines and not be consumed with outside pressures. Performing consistently across the board, Sherry finished in 48th position after the team competition and, two days later, placed 33rd in the all-around final, showing her best effort on the balance beam, where her routine was becoming world renowned.
The United States of America had the opportunity in early 1979 to witness Sherry’s gymnastics at their most prestigious international competition, the annual American Cup. Once again, Sherry competed exceedingly well, finishing in 5th place and attaining the 3rd highest balance beam score of the entire meet. In spite of dropping her national ranking to 5th at the Canadian Nationals that year, Sherry geared herself for her most important meet of 1979, the Pan American Games. The field of competitors in Puerto Rico could only stand back and admire the strength and depth of the Canadian women’s gymnastics team, who took charge from day one of compulsory exercises and proved victorious following their final optional routine a few days later when they once again rejoiced after collecting the gold medal. Individually, Sherry missed the all-around bronze medal by the narrowest of margins and, during the apparatus finals, experienced the proudest moment of her gymnastics career. Dazzling the international sporting audiences, Sherry danced and tumbled on the balance beam with confidence and ease, seemingly unaware of time or space. Her solid dismount was only a minor detail of this awe-inspiring routine and Sherry celebrated the gold medal in a moment of supreme glory, a moment in which she held close to her heart for the rest of her life.
Although Sherry did not compete at the 1979 World Championships in Forth Worth, Texas due to a broken ankle, she welcomed a new competitive year with spirit and determination. Exhibiting true excellence at the Canadian National Championships by tying for the bronze medal in the all-around with friendly rival, Goermann, Sherry turned on the charm during the apparatus finals and won the floor exercise gold medal outright with her aesthetic routine. By adding the uneven bars bronze to her medal count, these Nationals became the most successful to date for Sherry, who was receiving high accolades from the Canadian Federation. Great results were expected of her at the upcoming Olympic Games in Moscow but, unfortunately, due to the political struggles of the world’s nations, Moscow never became a reality for athletes of the western world, including those representing Canada. Sherry was forced to look beyond her childhood dream to future aspirations.
|1978 CAN v BUL|
Sherry (l), Schlegel and Gloutcheva
The 1980 World Cup provided a grand opportunity for Sherry and her teammates to make up for some of their Olympic disappointment and they had to travel no further than their own backyard to showcase their talent. Ontario’s diverse capital of Toronto enthusiastically welcomed the top gymnasts in the world, including, amongst others, three members of the Olympic gold medal winning team, Maria Filatova, Stella Zakharova and Elena Naimushina, of the Soviet Union, as well as all-around silver medalist and Olympic uneven bar champion, Maxi Gnauck of East Germany. As this meet took place at the end of a strenuous and emotionally draining year for the Canadian team, Sherry showed signs of fatigue on the power events, vault and floor exercise where, on the latter, she put her hands down on her double back opening pass, as well as her second pass of pike front somi through to double twist. Her extension and mobility within her choreography were, however, among the best of all competitors and she redeemed herself remarkably well on the balance beam, where her 9.50 was the tenth best score of the meet. Spectators, including the writer, will reminisce always over Sherry’s splendid scales and fluidity, as well as her novel dismount of gainer back somersault with a full twist off the end. Sherry’s routine impressed the media sufficiently enough to cause her to grace the next month’s cover of International Gymnast magazine.
Becoming Canadian National Champion was always an important goal for Sherry and for three years running, she came within striking distance of this achievement . In 1981, she strove for perfection and after mastering element after element during the all-around final, she propelled herself into first place and her tenacity landed her the honour of being named Canada’s best female gymnast. Later that year at the World Championship Trials, Sherry affirmed her national status by easily making the Canadian team who would travel to Moscow to compete against the world’s best. Sadly, Sherry once again was forced to miss the World Championships, this time due to a viral infection. She never again competed and retired from gymnastics in 1982 after attempting a comeback following a serious knee injury.
As with the majority of competitive athletes following retirement from amateur sport, Sherry drifted away from the spotlight and began a typical life. It was ten years later when fans saw her name in the newspapers again and tragically, it was to learn of her death. Following surgery for breast cancer in 1990, Sherry underwent chemotherapy treatment until she learned that she was carrying a child. Physicians strongly recommended that she terminate the pregnancy as they did not believe that she was well enough to withstand the physical strains of childbirth. Sherry elected to carry the pregnancy to term and months later a healthy son whom she named Brandon was born. Unfortunately, Sherry’s physicians were correct in their diagnosis, and this tenacious young woman died on the 26th day of October, 1991, seven weeks following childbirth after the cancer spread throughout her body. Before she was laid to rest, Sherry’s brother placed her precious balance beam gold medal from the Pan American Games around her neck, where it belonged; close to her heart.
And so Sherry Hawco, the lovely, graceful swan, lost her wings of flight but her legacy continues to live on in the soul of every Canadian gymnast. The Sherry Hawco choreography award is presented every year at the National Championships to the gymnast who dances the most beautifully.