Johnson turns gymnastic jumps into B.C. Sports Hall of Fame spot

New Westminster’s Valerie Johnson has seen a host of high points along with a few down spots during her 50 years involved in trampoline gymnastics.

The up-and-down reference comes with the territory, but as Johnson points out, the highlights far outweigh the low marks.

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Johnson was on a podium of a special kind Tuesday at the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame, as one of three coach/builders, a basketball team and five athletes who were inducted as the class of 2020.

For someone who fell in love with the sport growing up in the Royal City, Johnson still felt a sense of awe in the honour.

“I was quite taken back, amazed and a little overwhelmed. It’s amazing,” she said following the ceremony, where she joined the likes of wrestling’s Bill Mitchell, golf’s Harry White, athletes Jeff Francis (baseball), Sonja Gaudet (wheelchair curling), Brent Johnson (football), Kirk McLean (hockey), the 1979/80 University of Victoria men’s basketball team, pioneer Robin Bawa (hockey), Cleve Dheensaw (media) and Kathy Newman (W.A.C. Bennett Award) in receiving the honour.

Born at St. Mary’s Hospital, Johnson – maiden name de Paul – caught the gymnastics bug early. A national champion from 1971 to ’73, she competed for Canada at the world championships in ’72 in Germany and ’74 in South Africa, placing fourth in synchro trampoline at the latter. A year later, she founded Shasta.

Even at that time, she was helping to spread her love of the sport by coaching others.

“It’s indescribable, to be able to have such an impact on so many kids and athletes and see them grow into great people and achieve their goals – I don’t have the words to describe it,” said Johnson. “It’s amazing.”

In her many years as a coach, she said the highlights are rich and plentiful. Helping someone else achieve their dream is a special reward of its own, she noted.

“My feeling is to see the kids and see them accomplish their dreams. That is what my reward is,” Johnson said.

“I just sort of try to enjoy all the moments. One of our first athletes to receive a gold medal in ’82 was from our club, Christine Tough, so that was probably the biggest international highlight. As a coach to see that happen, with the Canadian flag, was pretty moving.”

The Shasta club continues to produce national and international level competitors, including some eyeing Olympic dreams. Johnson credits a great relationship with the City of New Westminster in helping her build a strong club, as well as her family and the many coaches who’ve worked with her.

The largest obstacle came nearly three years ago, when the Queen’s Park Arenex roof caved in. That forced the club to scramble for a suitable space – which, fortunately, was found in her hometown.

Joining up with the Vancouver Circus School, which operates at the River Market, has been a godsend.

“The Vancouver Circus School took us in when we didn’t have anywhere to train – and we’re still there,” Johnson said. “It’s one of the only facilities that has a high enough ceiling. It’s always a challenge for us to find a high enough ceiling.”

Now the owner of the Vancouver Circus School, Johnson is still coaching and looking forward to the spring when the city’s new Sportsplex is scheduled to be open. But no matter where they’re training, Johnson will be there, encouraging, guiding and helping her kids continue as far up the ladder as they can.

“It’s overwhelming. I really tried to savour the moments for my kids. To see them get that Canadian jacket on, that’s the biggest accomplishment I’d like them to get, to represent Canada.”

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