Ever since those early days in elementary school, Natalie Garcia's goal has been simple, straightforward and targeted. Academics remain high on the list, so is an enraging fascination to excel in sports.
The high performers program was a gift to me.
Have a chat with Garcia, and with a sparkling smile, respect and sincerity, she will tell you about wanting to compete with the best, become a champion and attract attention—even with her contemporaries—at the international level.
Now 16 years of age, setting high standards has been quite the challenge – especially since she chose rhythmic gymnastics much later than many, starting her sport specialty at age nine. Garcia knew she had to extra work hard, stay focused, devote heart and soul, and look for opportunities.
For the grade 10 student, one of those favourable moments came by tapping into the Peel Region High Performers Program based at Mississauga Secondary School—the only one of its kind catering to athletes and those with artistic talents, offered through the Peel District School Board.
Intellectual and focused, Garcia was quite cognizant that things would not be easy. If she wanted to climb the steps to success, it would require demanding practice, competition and multiple performance schedules.
"This [high performers] program was a gift to me and if I wasn't in it, things would be so much harder," she said. "A program, like this, has been flexible and not only helped me to monitor academic credits, but I have done homework in places like Russia, Italy and Argentina. It allows me to train, compete and try to reach my dream."
Pradeep Rajah, principal at Mississauga Secondary, is included in the list of fans supporting Garcia.
"We are so proud of her achievements," said Rajah. "To be chosen to Canada's National team is something special and we are thrilled that our high performers program, which is based on the educational needs of the student-athlete and a demanding schedule of training and competition, has helped her so much."
A program, like this, has been flexible and not only helped me monitor academic credits, but I have done homework in places like Russia, Italy and Argentina. It allows me to train, compete and try to reach my dream.
At 5-foot-4 and 100 pounds, Garcia didn't waste time exhibiting her talent. In her first year of competition, she won a Gymnastics Ontario age category championship – and it took off from there. A Canadian National title, then chosen to the junior national team, competing at the Youth Olympics in Argentina, losing the Junior Pan Am title in Colombia by a mere 0.4 points, and the list goes on.
"There was a time when I didn't make a big deal if I won or lost because the focus was always on improving—and what can I do to be just that much better the next time out," said Garcia who, this year, has competed in events in Croatia and while in Bulgaria made it to three of four finals at the Aura Cup in Sofia.
Flamboyant because of her exuberance and confidence, Garcia remembers being a hyper kid and her parents wanting to sign her up for gymnastics. With maturity, comes patience, determination and an increased thirst for knowledge, as well as a series of 90-second routines that are artistic, dramatic and downright eye-popping.
Tucked away in her memory are the emotional baby steps to improve, and the passion to learn. Fast forward and Garcia is looking ahead at claiming a spot on the Canadian team that will go to France to compete at the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.
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