Andy Sneddon, CMUChippewas.com
MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. – Like most successful student-athletes who reach the NCAA Division I level, Denelle Pedrick has accumulated a bounty of medals, ribbons and trophies.
Her latest? Well, this one gets a special place in her display case, and in her heart.
Pedrick, a sophomore on the Central Michigan gymnastics team, returned on Sunday from Taipei City, Taiwan, where she helped Team Canada win a silver medal in the World University Games.
It was Canada’s first team gymnastics medal in World University Games history, and Pedrick was part of a five-woman team that included two two-time Olympians, Ellie Black and Brittany Rogers. Russia won gold, Japan took bronze. She is also the first Chippewa gymnast in history to compete in the World University Games.
“Our goal was a medal and then to beat Japan; we were all shocked because (Japan) sent a very strong team,” Pedrick said. “We went in knowing we had a strong team, but it was all dependent on how the day went both for us and for our competitors.
“It gave me a new perspective, for sure, because with Team Canada, we have new, upcoming talent and we’re widening our diversity so our team should be stronger in the upcoming years. The silver, it’s definitely a special one.”
Pedrick, a native of Wilcox, Saskatchewan, placed 11th on balance beam and 15th on floor exercise. An ankle injury kept her out of vault.
“It’s a major accomplishment for her,” said CMU coach Jerry Reighard, who served as an assistant on the Team Canada coaching staff. “This is something that Denelle has been working for her entire career. I think it was an incredible experience for Denelle and the same for me. It’s an Olympic experience. There are 11,000 athletes, 41 countries. You’re rubbing elbows, eating dinner right there with the best of the best. It was a great experience.”
At 18, Pedrick was the youngest – by three years – of the five members of Team Canada. She quickly got over the awe she may have felt training and competing alongside Olympians, women she may have once idolized.
She said she met Black – who in 2016 finished fifth in the all-around at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics – at a training camp ahead of the World University Games.
“I had met (Black and Rogers) at competitions before,” Pedrick said. “The first time we met we bonded and became friends was at that camp. I trained with Ellie Black for two weeks leading up to Taipei. She was like a mentor to me, telling me what to expect and stuff. She was really welcoming, she’s really down to earth. Felt really easy to talk to her and ask her questions about what to expect.”
Pedrick earned an invitation to a Team Canada tryout after winning the Level 10 all-around at the Canadian Nationals in Montreal in May. She placed first on floor, second on vault, third on beam, and sixth on bars, earning her first national title.
Clearly, a year of training and seasoning under Reighard in Mount Pleasant paid dividends.
“The Canadian National coaches really noticed the vast improvement she made when she came here over what she was doing previously,” said Reighard, who is in his 33rd year as the Chippewas’ coach. “That (Canadian Nationals title) started the ball rolling.
“Her vault was their primary interest. It’s one of the leading scoring possible vaults in Canada. That was really her ticket and that’s really what they noticed, but Denelle had bigger plans. She actually went over there and competed on beam and floor and that was somewhat of a surprise because she had to beat someone out on the five-member team. That worked out really well and I think has enabled the Canadian coaching staff to look at her other possible international assignments.”
The competition in Taipei City was, as one might expect, top-notch, and should serve Pedrick well as she continues her CMU career under longtime coach Jerry Reighard and strives toward her ultimate goal of representing her native country in more international competitions.
Away from the gym, the 10-day trip provided other lasting memories.
“I think my favorite part was, the people there, everyone wanted to take pictures with you,” she said. “You felt like a celebrity because you would just be walking down the street and they would stop you and ask to take a picture, or ask you for your autograph. That’s why it felt like the Olympic Games or something like that.”
Pedrick, who capped her freshman year at CMU with a regional title on vault and the subsequent berth in the NCAA Championships, said she drew plenty from the experience that will help her in the gym.
“I think it’ll help my confidence, knowing that I’ve done an international competition, having it under my belt,” she said. “Winning a medal on the big stage just kind of gave me an extra boost that I can bring to (CMU).
“When we were there, practice didn’t go perfect, it wasn’t a breeze, we had our struggles, and then we just came together; we knew what we had to do to medal and everyone did their part. If I bring that to our team, maybe I can motivate them that even if warmup didn’t go the best, or we’re in a different place, you just adjust and trust your training.”