Brave Nicole Mawhinney bids for Games place
A local gymnast who thought she would have to give up the sport last year has become the first in Northern Ireland to gain two qualification scores needed for a place in the 2014 Commonwealth Games squad.
Nicole Mawhinney, who competes on the vault, beam and bars, suffered two compressed discs in her back and had to take a full year out from competition to undergo physiotherapy treatment.
She returned to action in September at the Hungarian Grand Prix, remarkably becoming the first Irish gymnast to make the final and finishing in sixth place.
The 17-year-old, who is currently completing her A-level exams at Regent House in Newtownards, gained her first score of 47.6 at the Rosebowl International in England in October before following it up with a score of 47.3 at the Irish Team Championships in Lisburn earlier this month.
The scores, achieved in her first two qualifying competitions, take Nicole through to the Northern Ireland squad qualification process but the Salto gymnast isn't resting on her laurels.
"I am delighted to have gained my first two scores," she said. "I have another six competitions and I'm aiming now to increase my start value and difficulty which will then increase my overall score.
"I am extremely happy that I am the first gymnast to achieve my score, but this doesn't make me complacent. I want to continue improving and be at my peak for 2014 to secure my place on the team."
Awarded the Rainbow Communications Sports Award in partnership with the Mary Peters Trust (MPT), Nicole undertakes a gruelling schedule every week.
She trains four hours a day, six days a week and travels from her home in Portavogie to train in Lisburn. That adds up to a grand total of 42 hours a week on gymnastics and travelling.
"I find the support of the MPT extremely important, as it helps my parents to fund my competitions," she continued.
"It also goes towards my training costs and without this I wouldn't be able to continue in the sport I love."
Mum Claire and dad Robin have supported their daughter since she took up the sport aged seven and are delighted to see Nicole succeed.
"Nicole has worked extremely hard over the years," said Claire.
"She has put a lot of effort in and the scores she is getting reflects that.
"We've sacrificed a lot, such as cutting holidays short to travel to competitions and putting everyday things on hold. Life revolves around Nicole, but it's worth it. Her achievements are absolutely fantastic."
Nicole is in action this weekend at the Northern European Championships in Lisburn, where she is aiming for a personal best score.