Working hard to reach the world stage

Rhythmic gymnast Karen Salazar hopes to one day represent Canada or Mexico

Given Karen Salazar’s ability to juggle her Grade 12 studies with a rigorous training schedule, it’s no wonder she thrives at rhythmic gymnastics.

The 17-year-old is currently training 20 hours a week as a member of the Richmond Olympic Oval based Aura Rhythmic Gymnastics Club, working under head coach Kamena Petkova. That will increase to 25 hours, over five days, when competitive season arrives in January.

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The dedication paid off in a big way at last spring’s Canadian Rhythmic Gymnastics Championships where Salazar was crowned senior national champion for ribbon and added a silver in ball. It was another big step in her progression as she hopes to represent her country as soon as the 2021 World Championships.

That could be Mexico or Canada.

Salazar was six when her family moved to Richmond and she is keeping her options open for both.

“Obviously, Mexico is a big choice because I am Mexican and feel more connected there but I love Canada as well,” explained Salazar, during a break in her training session on Sunday. “I’m pretty custom to Canada now and it has given me a lot of opportunities coming from an immigrant family.

“Going to Mexico (for competitions and camps) has given me an opportunity to learn more about my heritage. I’ve been able to meet family members I wouldn’t have been able to see otherwise.”

Salazar initially joined competitive swimming and signed-up for gymnastics when she was 11. Soon after, she became intrigued with rhythmic gymnastics via YouTube.

The Olympic sport combines elements of ballet, gymnastics, dance and apparatus manipulation —  all choreographed to music.

“I was watching these videos. I thought it was so pretty and almost impossible what they were doing,” recalled Salazar. I wanted to do it too and started to catch onto things, training myself at home.”

She eventually convinced her parents to join Aura and they soon discovered how it was their daughter’s passion.

Salazar wasted little time winning her first provincial title a year later.  Western Canada honours soon followed.

She is headed to Mexico in November for a national team training camp then will have a number of significant events in the new year, including the Elite Canada Meet at the Oval that determines national team selection. 

There will also be competitions in Mexico and both countries’ national championships happen within weeks of each other.

“My parents try to support me as much as they can. There are times when I am going from one plane to another, living out of suitcases,” laughed Salazar. “It’s fun and it’s really great being able to travel.”

Her gold medal at Canadian Nationals in ribbon came as a surprise as it was not her strongest event. However, it reflected the extra time she had put into training.

“Up until nationals, I have never done a perfect ribbon routine. My strongest is usually hoop and ball. But I had just been working so hard on it every day right up to nationals.

“It was a very surreal moment for me because the year before I had a back injury and was probably at the lowest point of my career. It took a lot of work and focus to get back. I had come full circle.”

Salazar is grateful for the cooperation she gets at Hugh Boyd Secondary where she attends classes three times a week and does the rest of her full Grade 12 course load online.

The long training hours are required to focus on her sport’s various disciplines.

“There are definitely moments where you kind of feel really tired. However, at the end of the day it has paid off for me,” Salazar added. “As much as I have my little temper tantrums and stuff, I enjoy it. It is really good for me to de-stress and it keeps me focus on school too.”

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