From a Chinese orphanage to the Canadian national team in just 17 years
Teen gymnast is a contender for RBC Top 25 awards honouring immigrants to Canada
Laura Fraser · CBC News May 14, 2016
On the mat, the world falls away for Cleo Page — music and muscle memory take over as she lets her body tell a story.
Rhythmic gymnastics has become the focus of the 17-year-old’s life, having made the Canadian national team last year, moving from Ottawa to Toronto to train.
It’s the combined artistry and athleticism that drew her in to the sport.
Cleo first started taking gymnastic classes when she was three, two years after her parents — Shelley Page and Glen McGregor — first held her in their arms in the Chinese orphanage where she lived for six months of infancy.
Adopted from China
Two police officers found her in a basket behind a shop in the southeastern city of Zhuzhou, China, when she was three months old, she says.
“I don’t really know what happened in the first couple months of my life,” she says.
But she’s heard stories of the “plain little room” she shared with about 30 other babies. And she visited the orphanage herself four years ago before it was torn down.
“I don’t really know the story of my birth parents,” she said. “But I’m very grateful that I do have a family now that loves me and I could come all the way across the world and have all these opportunities.”
Those opportunities include the chance to fulfil her dream of representing Canada at the Olympics in 2020. She trains almost every day — during a four-hour training session, Cleo will spend half her time stretching, warming up, and trying to perfect her technique on the critical movements.
Then, she’ll go through her routine, again and again, for another two hours until it’s ingrained in her body.
In the memory of her muscles.
“I love the art aspect of it,” she said, of rhythmic gymnastics. “My favourite apparatus is ribbon because it’s just really graceful and you can be one with something else.
It’s like an extension of your body.”
A body remembers
There are things that your body never forgets.
For Cleo’s mother, that’s the weight of her new baby in her arms. The way she seemed to be taking in everything around her.
She was just watching everything,” Page said. “She was obviously scared, because she wasn’t talking or making a lot of sounds but every single thing that was going on she was watching.”
And although the family spent their lives Canada, Page said she wanted to ensure her daughter felt a connection to her cultural heritage in China. At first that was through Chinese dance, something that Cleo draws on, too, as a gymnast.
Cleo doesn’t yet know whether she’ll qualify for the Olympics. Anything can happen in four years, she said.
But she is one of the finalists for the RBC Top 25 Canadian Immigrant Awards; the winners of which will be chosen for the work they’ve done in their communities.
For now, though, Cleo said she’s focusing on her training and her performance.
“Right before I go onto the carpet, I’m pretty nervous … but once you get on and the music starts, you just kind of forget,” she said. “You let go and just enjoy it.”