November 14, 2017

Small in size, big in determination, Helen Dong heads to World Age Group Trampoline and Tumbling Championship in Bulgaria

She is what many would call a sparkplug of talent and knowledge, poised and waiting for just the right time to hit the big spotlight.

Meet Helen Dong, and at 14 years of age, is one of the youngest high school students in the Peel District School Board. This bundle of energy, enthusiasm and intelligence is excelling in academics as well as in a very competitive event in the world of sport.

A gymnast, with a craving for excellence in sport discipline of power tumbling, Dong offers up a combination of skills, experience and a thirst for excellence in gymnastics.

Watching her routine performance of twists, flips, handstands and spins, all in a span of seconds, can be breath taking and magical.

"I really enjoy (gymnastics) and I often thank my parents and coaches for the support they have given me," said Dong, who was born in Albany, N.Y., but came to Canada as an infant and is a duo-citizen.

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A grade 9 student in the enhanced program at The Woodlands School in Mississauga, not many know her just yet–and that's just fine right now for the gifted student, whose personality illuminates with confidence.

"I'm not a celebrity, I like to keep quiet," she said with a contagious smile. "I'm a student, learning and hoping to go to university and study architecture because I enjoy science, technology, engineering and mechanics."

As a youngster, Dong was ambitious and fascinated with the dynamics behind technology, and built a rollercoaster, and other items, from a Lego kit that she still owns.

Dong has done well, but the best is yet to come for this bundle of joy, which has benefitted immensely in the sport because her parents signed her up for recreational gymnastics at the age of four.

Now, Dong is off to her biggest challenge – the World Age Group Trampoline and Tumbling Championship​ set for November 16 to 19 in Sofia, Bulgaria. She's a member of the Canadian contingent chosen to compete at an event hosted by the International Gymnastics Federation. Dong is entered in the competition for 13 and 14 year old girls, and is quite cognizant that the competition, even at that age, can be fierce.

While tumbling is not recognized as an Olympic sport, the stage is set for many of the top competitors in the world to perform. For Dong, a member of the Oakville Gymnastics Club​, her focus is doing her best.

"I go into this to gain experience, learn from others and to have some fun," she said. "Sure I'm nervous, but I can also strive when opportunities like this happen. It's not possible to get what you want unless you keep learning, work hard and sacrifice a lot."

Dong has her personal, and building, collection of medals, plaques, certificates and awards that continue to take over her room at home. There's the Bronze medal from this year's National finals, the silver from the 2016 Pan Am games in Bogota (Colombia), and a pair of gold medallions at the 2016 Provincial championship and 2015 Eastern Canadian finals.

To ease the stress and pressure, that can come with practicing some 13 hours, five days a week, and is escorted by her mother to training in Oakville, Dong turns to classical contemporary music.

Well versed in piano, having learned the C Major music scale at age 2, she sits back and listens to her favorite piece - "River Flows in You", a calming piano performance by a Korean composer and pianist.

"When I'm tired from practice and homework, I find it relaxing to just listen to piano and music," she said. ""Everyone needs something to turn to for a break from everything else."

Respected for her well-balanced approach to life, Dong continues to excel academically – from those early years of Honours grades at Oscar Peterson Public School and Erin Centre Middle School, to the Woodlands Enhanced Learning Program.​

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