From its humble beginnings in the auxiliary gym of Tsawwassen Junior Secondary to its current home at the Delta Sport Development Centre in Ladner, Carlene Lewall has seen Delta Gymnastics evolve into one of the top clubs in Canada.
After 38 years, Lewall, the director of marketing and physical literacy education, is retiring at the end of June.
"I think the time seems right," Lewall told the Optimist this week. "We have an amazing staff here. There are great plans in place and they have the tools to implement those plans. I'd like to be able to still help the club when I can, but I want to be able to do other things."
Lewall's introduction to the sport happened by chance. She started her career as a physical education teacher and part of her degree at UBC involved learning about gymnastics.
"Fate is amazing. Sometimes you just left life happen," she said. "When I started at UBC I never realized that gymnastics was a sport. I just loved it and felt if I ever wanted to share this with others I needed to have a great foundation of skills."
Upon completion of her degree, her first teaching posting was at Steveston Senior Secondary. At the start of the school year, some students approached her about starting a gymnastics club.
"I thought that was pretty cool, but knowing that I was new to the sport I asked them who had introduced them and it turns out it was a teacher at Hugh Boyd," Lewall recalled. "So I got linked up with Hugh Boyd and we started this club at Steveston and some competitions. It was really great."
She stopped teaching when she became pregnant with her first child, but the passion for the sport and for teaching kids didn't waver, as she did some volunteer teaching at the Killarney Community Centre. That passion continued when the family moved to Winnipeg and then St. Albert where she taught and mentored kids.
"It was a hobby really, but I just really liked doing it and working with all the kids and seeing their growth was just fantastic," she said.
In 1979, Lewall and her family returned to Tsawwassen and her involvement with Delta Gymnastics began.
Karoline (Kari) Cullen, who competed with the UBC gymnastics team from 1971 to 1975, started the club in the summer of 1975. Four years later with the club starting to gain a foothold in the community, Cullen lost two of her assistant coaches to other opportunities.
Cullen received a call from the Corporation of Delta that the head coach of the St. Albert club wanted to coach locally. Serendipity. It was Lewall.
"I love kids and my goal from the start was to see kids become the best that they could be and gymnastics is the medium to see that happen," said Lewall. "The club has endorsed that and made that happen, so kids coming through here grow physically, but also mentally and socially.
"Kari became a great friend. I'm really proud of what we, alongside all the coaches, staff, parents and the kids were able to accomplish. A lot of clubs don't evolve or think outside of the box, but this club does. They have great ideas, a great energy to move forward and strive to be better every day."
Executive director Ana Arciniega said they could never replace someone like Lewall.
"Carlene has done everything for us. She will always be our leader in many ways. She is a phone call, or a text or an email away, so to still have her as that resource is huge for us," said Arciniega. "She has coached, she has mentored, she led the fundraising and expansion efforts, she champions for our kids. Her work promoting the ideas of physical literacy is a legacy for sport in this community. I could go on and on about what she has meant to the success of this club."
Despite closing this chapter of her story, Lewall, a former Delta Citizen of the Year, plans to still be active in the community in her role as chair of Delta KidSport as well as through volunteer work with Tourism Delta, the Ladner Business Association, Delta Sports Council and the Delta Sports Hall of Fame.