Ellie Black vaults Canadian team to finals

Friday, July 20, 2012 - 11:01am

By Kelly Hennessey

Note: This story was written before employees Tom and Kathy Black went to London to see their daughter Ellie compete in the Olympics. Here is Ellie's story in the Chronicle Herald from her Vault Final on Sunday, August 5.

Do you ever wonder about the moments that change the course of a life?

Thomas Black, an orthotist at the Nova Scotia Rehabilitation Centre, can pinpoint one such moment in his daughter’s life.

“At age six, Ellie had tried some options, but we were still looking for a sport that would engage her. One of my physiotherapy colleagues said, ‘Put her in gymnastics. Look how strong she is’.” Tom and his wife, Kathy, a psychiatrist at Dartmouth Community Mental Health, did just that, enrolling her at Halifax ALTA Gymnastics Club.

Ten years later that moment has led Ellie and her family to the London Olympics. Ellie is the first female artistic gymnast East of Montreal to ever make an Olympic team.

“If you had told me six months ago that Ellie would be going to the Olympics, I would have said she is a very talented gymnast but the timing is not looking good,” said Tom.

Ellie had been on a promising path and was poised to win medals at the Canada Winter Games in 2011 - until she broke her big toe a few weeks before competition. Surgery and eight months of rehabilitation later, Ellie returned to competition in France last fall only to dislocate her elbow and break her thumb. Not exactly the right conditions for success leading into an Olympic year.

Despite the setbacks, Ellie still went to the gym every day.

“She was very determined. I was amazed at her strength and the resources she had within herself to keep going,” said Kathy.

Doggedly, Ellie returned to competition in January 2012 at a blistering pace. She went to Mississauga, Montreal and Brazil and earned one first place finish in vault at each event, plus several other high placements in floor and beam. This earned her a spot on the Canadian Women’s Senior National Team. Then off to Croatia where she won vault and floor, followed by Nationals in Regina where she won another first in vault and third in floor. Ultimately, this six-month winning spree led Ellie to the Canadian team Olympic trials in Gatineau.

After try-outs, she waited four hours for that one moment to hear, ‘You made the team!’ She was the fifth and final competitor chosen.

What does it take as parents and a family to help a child realize a dream this big?

“A lot of family support,” said Kathy. “I’ve been there for her emotionally and Tom has been the major supporter with the practical realities of driving her to the gym every day and getting her to competitions.”

“It takes a lot of choices,” said Tom. Ellie’s younger brother William is also in competitive gymnastics and her older sister is a figure skater. “The whole family has made sacrifices to support our children’s sports.”

Now less than a week before Tom, Kathy and the siblings leave for London, both Tom and Kathy have said “it seems like an unreal thing” that Ellie is competing at the world’s most prestigious sporting event.

“I live very carefully in my emotional world,” said Tom. “I know the highs and the lows - it’s a tough sport. Women mature so quickly that it’s rare to see a female gymnast compete beyond 19 or 20 years of age. At 16, Ellie is at the pinnacle of her career.

“When we get to the stadium and see her, it will all really hit home.”

Ellie’s first competition is Sunday, July 29 at 10:45 a.m. AST. Cheer her on by sending her a tweet @EllieBlack_

Next week, we will feature Geoff Harris, son of Sue Harris, Halifax Infirmary Emergency Department. Do you know of any other Capital Health employees participating at the Olympics as volunteers or artistically? Send a message to CapitalNews@cdha.nshealth.ca