Like the name on her club T-shirt implies, Wings of another sort will be taking Anthea McKenzie a long way from her beloved gymnastics past.
McKenzie, one of the Wings Gymnastic Society's longest-serving home-grown coaches, will be leaving the Lower Mainland at the end of this month to start a new chapter in her life in Edmonton, after 27 years as a competitor and coach with the Cameron rec centre gym club.
"It's what I know and what I'm used to. Now that it's going to be gone, I'm not sure how I'm going to deal with it," said McKenzie, who has accepted a position as a teacher of special needs children in Edmonton. "I'm going to miss it, for sure."
McKenzie grew up in Burnaby and, from the time she turned seven to the present day, has called Wings her recreational home.
She competed at Wings for nine years and became one of the club's top gymnasts of her day, reaching a thenprovincial B standard and a place at the B.C. Winter Games.
After graduating from Cariboo Hill Secondary School, McKenzie continued coaching gymnastics at the East Burnaby centre.
"Definitely coaching was my first job," she said.
Through Wings, McKenzie, now 34, found her life's calling.
"After a couple of years, I just knew it's what I wanted to do - work with kids," she added.
"It's hard because sometimes I don't even think about it. I have three jobs and work between 10-and 12-hour days. I can go there and forget about everything else, and my spirits are lifted," McKenzie added.
Wings was, and continues to still be, a special place in the heart of those who work and train there, McKenzie said.
For many young girls, competing under pressure is not always a happy experience. The philosophy at Wings has embraced that belief from Day 1 and attempted to make the experience one of fun first for the participant.
"It's a different kind of way of doing things," McKenzie said. "I was always quite happy there. Many times, I was competing against girls who were practising as many as three times as many hours as I was."
But as competitive as McKenzie became, she never felt compelled to move to a more challenging outsidethe-club program.
She is not alone. Some of the coaches McKenzie works alongside now were just young five-year-olds when she first took them under her protective wing.
In fact, of the 22 current coaches at Wings most of them began as one-time gymnasts, McKenzie said. She estimates that as many as 50 per cent of the competitive gymnasts come back to Wings to lend a hand at some point.
"It's the Wings family," she said. With less than two weeks to go before she starts her new life in Alberta, McKenzie is beginning to think about how she will even start to say goodbye.
"It's incredible. All I can think about is it's been my life and now I'm going to do without it," McKenzie said. "It's been so much a part of my life."
"At first, the prospect of starting a new life in Edmonton was exciting, but now it's getting a bit more emotional.
"At first, I could not wait, but now the emotions are coming into play."
- tberridge@burnabynow. com