After two hectic years, Ellie Black needed a break.
The Canadian gymnast’s standout performance at the 2015 Pan Am Games, not to mention an impressive showing at the Rio Olympics last summer, had vaulted her into the national spotlight.
But feeling the wear on both her body and mind, she felt it was time to step away, relax and give back.
“When you’re training for these big competitions you don’t necessarily have all the time to do those cool events or go out to see kids in all the gyms,” said Black. ”I got to do a lot of that, which was pretty incredible.
“You need to enjoy what you’ve accomplished, but also return the favour to the people who have supported you along the way.”
Refreshed and rejuvenated, the Halifax native headlines Canada’s team of 275 athletes for the world university games, which get underway Saturday and runs through Aug. 30 in Taipei, Taiwan.
The Canadians will compete in 16 sports at the event expected to attract 9,000 student-athletes and officials from over 170 countries.
“It reminds me of a mini Olympics,” said Black, who took part in the 2013 university games. ”It’s awesome.”
Black made a name for herself at the Pan Ams in Toronto two summers ago with five medals in artistic gymnastics, including three gold, to earn the honour as the Canada’s most decorated athlete. Her victory in the women’s individual all-around was the first by a Canadian since 1979 and snapped an American winning streak dating back to 1983.
A year later in Brazil, she finished fifth in the same event for Canada’s best-ever Olympic result.
“The Pan Ams were awesome, it was great, but we didn’t want to lose focus,” Black said in a phone interview after a recent training session in her hometown before departing for Taiwan. ”We wanted to focus a lot on the training and moving forward to Rio.
“That’s why after Rio I took a bit of time to embrace those accomplishments.”
Black, who turns 22 next month, won two medals at the 2013 university games in Russia, and cites that experience along with the 2012 London Olympics as moments that laid the groundwork for her success.
Like when she visits younger gymnasts, she feels the responsibility to give back.
“The older athletes … they really took me under their wing and made me feel a part of it and made me feel comfortable,” said Black, who returned to Dalhousie University this spring to continue work on her kinesiology degree. ”That’s something that I’ve tried to do over the last few years — be a leader.
“Hopefully we’ll have some great performances.”
Black had surgery to clean out some bone spurs in her ankle when she got back from Brazil before spraining the same joint when she returned to training. But she was healthy in time to compete at a World Cup event in May that was followed a few weeks later by the Canadian championships in Montreal, where she won the all-around event after finishing second last year.
While keen to grab more hardware in Taipei as she continues to prepare for October’s world artistic gymnastic championships in Montreal, Black is also excited to take part in another multi-sport event with fellow Canadian athletes overseas.
“You’re always competing with gymnasts and you don’t get to see those other sports when you’re so consumed in your own sport,” she said. “It’s great to support them and they support you.”
Recently named one of Nova Scotia’s top-25 athletes of all-time — a group that includes the likes of hockey stars Sidney Crosby and Al MacInnis and curler Colleen Jones — as part of a list that will be whittled down to 15 in the fall, Black is not only proud to represent her country, but also her home province.
“To be on that list and to be up there with those amazing athletes, it’s really incredible,” she said. ”To have that level of athlete come out of a Nova Scotia, a little bit smaller province, it shows you can make your dreams your reality.
“That’s something that’s very important to me. Hopefully I’m inspiring the younger generation.”