Rosannagh MacLennan, trampolinist-champion
“Winning gold isn’t the experience; it’s everything leading up to that moment that really teaches you the values of sports and the values that you can carry over into the rest of your life.”
When trampolinists are about to perform their routines, they take a minute to “find their jump”—to bounce up and down on the trampoline until they reach the right height to get going. That doesn’t necessarily mean starting at maximum height.
Take it from Rosannagh (Rosie) MacLennan: “I know that, as I’m building, I have more strength and stability than when I’m maintaining.”
She’s a great source on the subject. Rosie won gold in trampoline at the London 2012 Olympic Summer Games, making her the first Canadian to win the event. When she won gold again, at the Rio 2016 Olympic Summer Games, she etched her name even more boldly into the history books, becoming the first Canadian woman to win two gold medals at an individual summer event, the first Canadian to successfully defend their title at the Olympic Summer Games and the first trampolinist ever to win back-to-back Olympic gold.
Rosie also won the 2013 World Trampoline Championships, as well as the 2011 and 2015 Pan American Games in the individual trampoline event. And she has several Canadian National titles to her name.
As astonishing as her athletic achievements are, what resonates even more for me is her overall approach to life. She’s turned the trampolining technique of maximizing energy and optimizing performance into a lifestyle, always striving to improve and be her best in everything she touches. Rosie doesn’t waste energy on things she can’t control. Instead, she focuses on her attitude, behaviour and actions, and turns everything—even (or especially) mistakes—into an opportunity for growth.
“I’ve had competitions where I literally ended up on the ground,” she says. “If I just thought about the fact that I ended up on the ground, I’m not going to actually help myself. Whereas if I examine why it happened and what I can do to fix it, then the experience, as crappy as it is in the moment, will make me better and stronger, as a person and as an athlete.”
Rosie’s remarkable mindset was instilled early. She describes athletics in her childhood as “kind of the way (my family) interacted together.” Her parents, Jane and John MacLennan, always encouraged their children to be active, using the lessons learned in sport as a springboard to overall life success.
Jane was a competitive figure skater in her youth, and both she and John “really valued participation in sport,” says Rosie. “When they saw I had a passion for it, they would share stories of athletes to teach lessons like perseverance or dedication and hard work. They kind of incorporated it into a way of teaching us.”
Growing up in King City, Ontario, Rosie followed her three elder siblings to their various sporting pursuits, trying “a ton of different activities.” But when she took up trampoline at age seven, the sport stuck.
Rosie’s family has quite a legacy in gymnastics. Her sister, Kate, competed in trampoline at the national level before switching to competitive sailing. Her brothers, Matt and Michael, both competed internationally. And in 1940, their grandfather Lorne Patterson qualified for Team Canada as an artistic gymnast.
Lorne never had the opportunity to compete at the Olympics; they were cancelled due to the Second World War. But his hope to compete for Team Canada trickled down through the generations.
Like her grandfather, young Rosie dreamed of representing her country at the Olympics. Every two years, she was glued to the television, watching athletes compete at the highest level in summer and winter sports.
“Something about the Olympics always seemed so magical,” she says. “Once I grew up and learned what the Olympics and Olympic values were all about, it seemed really fascinating to me and I wanted to be a part of it.”
Still, it wasn’t immediately clear that trampoline was the sport that would take her there. When she started jumping, trampoline wasn’t even an Olympic event. And she was equally passionate about dancing and ski racing. But as they increasingly became competing interests, her parents decided it was time for Rosie to narrow her focus.
In good company
Rosie credits her former teammate and lifelong friend Karen Cockburn with helping transform her Olympic dreams into a true goal. In 1999, at age 11, Rosie travelled to her first international competition, in Sun City, South Africa. There, she saw Karen and her now-husband, Mathieu Turgeon, earn spots on Team Canada for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Summer Games.
Both Karen and Mathieu were members at Skyriders Trampoline Place, the same gym where Rosie and her siblings trained. “Over the next year, I watched them train and saw the process of training,” says Rosie. “The really good days, the hard days. No matter what, they would always come back and train harder. Having exposure to that at a young age is pretty powerful.”
In Sydney, Karen and Matt each won bronze medals—the first of three Olympic medals for Karen. When they came home, says Rosie, “I got to see their medals and talk to them, and it made it really real because they were real people, not just people I saw on TV. They showed me that (medalling at the Olympics) was doable but they also gave me realistic view of what it actually takes to get there.”
Rosie started training with Karen, targetting a Team Canada spot for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Summer Games, which was the earliest opportunity Rosie would be old enough to compete under the five rings. She and Karen also became synchronized trampoline partners, a match that proved hugely successful; the pair won the 2007 World Trampoline Championships and still holds the record for the most consecutive wins.
Rosie did qualify for Beijing, where she finished seventh. But she wasn’t ready to wait four more years for her next Olympic experience. In 2010, she headed to Vancouver, B.C. to volunteer at Canada Olympic House, helping out behind the scenes as the winter athletes took the stage.
“It was really motivating to be in that environment, to be surrounded by athletes and their families,” she says. “I had already competed in Beijing, but I knew I wanted to win a medal. To be in Vancouver for a home Games, surrounded by so much success and so many incredible athletes who were so friendly—I wasn’t part of their journey, but just to witness it was really powerful. There’s nothing that quite matches the energy of an Olympic Games.”
Two years after Vancouver 2010, Rosie had her opportunity to win that Olympic medal—a gold, no less. It was a profound moment, refilling her with joy for her sport and gratitude to everyone who helped her reach the podium.
“I’m really proud of what I’ve accomplished, but I’ve by no means been able to do it by myself,” she says. “I’ve been surrounded by incredible mentors and coaches and supporters, and I’m really thankful for that.”
Chief among those supporters, or “anchors” as she calls them, is her family, who has unfailingly been there for her from the beginning. “As a kid saying you want to go the Olympics, some people might have (looked down on that),” says Rosie. “My family supported me and encouraged me; they’ve never belittled my goals or my dreams.”
After bringing that dream to life not once but twice, and earning her first Olympic gold, she thought she would “carry that momentum right through to Rio.” But this time, things were different.
Between London and Rio, Rosie “was faced with some pretty significant challenges, physically and mentally.” She endured personal struggles as well as an ankle injury. And, having suffered a mild concussion before London, she had three more concussions prior to Rio, including one right before and one right after the 2015 Pan American Games (which she still managed to win).
Following her second concussion, in 2013, Rosie spent one-and-a-half years feeling derailed. The concussions had caused nystagmus, or uncontrolled twitching in her eyes, which led to “getting lost in the air” and falling a lot on the trampoline—something she’d never grappled with before.
“That completely shattered my confidence in the sport and a lot of my joy for training,” she says. “I developed this deep, gut-wrenching fear of my sport. For a few months I was terrified of it. I was showing up physically to train but I wasn’t really showing up mentally.”
Most days, Rosie went home crying after practise. By the end of 2014, she found herself questioning her motivation and commitment to trampolining. But all that turned around during one pivotal moment at a New Year’s Eve party, when a friend shared a quote: Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work.
“That struck a chord with me,” says Rosie. “You can’t just sit around and wait for inspiration or momentum to come. You have to build it yourself, and you build it by showing up and starting. I knew in that moment that I was committed to just showing up, and trying to work at it and push through it no matter what.”
I think I can, I think I can…
In 2015, Rosie returned to Skyriders Trampoline Place with renewed purpose. She suffered her third and fourth concussions later that year, but this time she was able to hold onto her motivation.
That’s not to say that her later concussions didn’t pose any problems. Following her second concussion in 2015, which came after the Pan Am Games, she had trouble with memory and speech. It was hard for her to form sentences and carry on conversations, and she developed “intense social anxiety” as a result.
She also had headaches, dizziness, insomnia and, eventually, depression. Four months away from Olympic qualifications, she was forced to completely stop training and begin the rebuilding process. Fortunately, she saw a clear path forward.
Rosie had a remarkable team of health professionals that was just as committed to her well being and success as she was. Working with a functional neurologist, two osteopaths, an athletic therapist, an acupuncturist, a chiropractor and a sports psychologist, she followed “a very gradual, step-by-step process” that enabled her to safely recover, train and, ultimately, compete at the 2015 Trampoline World Championships, earning Canada a spot at the Rio 2016 Olympic Summer Games.
Rosie also relied on two of her most secure anchors to help her stay steady throughout her return to high-level competition: Karen and their coach, David (Dave) Ross.
When Rosie locked down her spot for Rio, she was the only trampolinist to qualify for Team Canada. That meant that the 2016 Summer Games would be the first since 2000 at which Karen wouldn’t compete. It also meant that, unlike when Rosie trained for Beijing and London, she wouldn’t be surrounded by other athletes who were training as hard as she was, providing valuable energy, feedback and encouragement.
Rosie confided in Karen that she needed more support. “From that day forward, for the next few months, Karen showed up to the gym two, three times a week to work with me specifically,” says Rosie. “I can’t imagine how difficult that would have been for her, given that (she had also wanted a spot at Rio). She definitely had a huge impact on my preparation leading into every single competition I’ve ever had, but I think leading into Rio, it was particularly selfless of her.”
Dave, meanwhile, offered his own brand of support. Right after London, before Rosie’s slew of injuries, “I had all these dreams and ideas and routines that I wanted to do in Rio,” she says. Post-concussions, she feels that most coaches would have insisted she stick to the base routines. Not Dave.
“We came up with all these routines, and he started planting these seeds about skills that I never thought that I would ever do in my career, and then a year later I started working on them,” she says. “He has this incredible ability to expand what you believe is possible. He gave me the freedom to try those routines and learn those new skills and really push myself, even though it was cutting into the preparation time a little. He was letting me find the joy of my sport again.”
By summer 2016, Rosie felt stronger than ever, both mentally and physically, and was once again in love with trampolining. She was ready to win her second Olympic gold—and she kicked it all off as Canada’s flag bearer for the opening ceremonies in Rio.
“As that kid watching the Olympics on TV, I always looked at the flag bearers and thought it was so amazing,” she says. “I never in my wildest dreams thought that I would have the chance to do that… To be a representative of Team Canada and a representative of athletes who are so strong and fierce and passionate and powerful is really cool, it’s very surreal but amazing. That was probably the biggest honour of my life.”
“Rosie achieved what she did due to a positive attitude, passion for trampolining, physical strength and, primarily, her unswerving determination to be the best she could be. I think of her like the little engine going up the mountain in the children’s story: ‘I think I can, I think I can.’” —Dave Ross, Team Canada coach, founder & president of Skyriders Trampoline Place
Strength to strength
Given Rosie’s continued commitment to forward momentum, it’s only natural that she’s found success on and off the trampoline.
After graduating from King City Secondary School in 2006, she moved to Toronto, Ontario, where she lives today, to study at the University of Toronto. She completed a Physical Education and Health degree in 2011, and earlier this year, wrapped up her Masters in Exercise Science, with a focus on athletes’ rights, roles and responsibilities. Her expertise and education benefit both Gymnastics Canada, for which Rosie is on the board of directors, and the Canadian Olympic Committee, for which she serves as Vice-Chair of the Athletes’ Commission.
Rosie’s passion for sport also informs her charity work. She’s involved with Canadian Tire’s Jumpstart, which “helps kids overcome physical and financial barriers so that more kids in Canada get the opportunity to participate in sports,” she says. Rosie has given more than just her time and energy to Jumpstart; she donated her winnings from London 2012 to the organization.
Like her fellow Kickass Canadian Clara Hughes, whom she calls “a strong mentor of mine,” Rosie is an athlete ambassador for Right to Play, which uses educational games to teach children in need. Since 2012, she’s visited youth in First Nations communities and Liberia, and she now sits on Right to Play’s Canadian advisory board.
Rosie is committed to encouraging sports among all youth, but she’s particularly interested in championing female athletics. When she first started international competition, she felt self-conscious about her body, comparing her muscular build to the many “smaller and skinnier” gymnasts around her. Ultimately, she dropped that way of thinking; it was dead weight, a waste of energy.
“My mom was really great about refocusing my views,” says Rosie. “She said, ‘You can either be the skinniest girl on the trampoline and not healthy and not strong, or you can be the best girl on the trampoline. You just can’t be both.’”
That shift in perspective helped her focus on her physical strength and capabilities rather than her size. It’s an attitude she hopes all girls can embrace, especially those in their early to mid-teens, when, she says, many of them drop out of sports due to poor body confidence.
“I try to share my own story, my own experiences,” says Rosie, who was a spokeswoman for Dove’s 2013 Girls Unstoppable campaign and continues to be vocal about the importance of positive body image. “Hopefully (the girls I reach) realize they’re not the only ones feeling that way or thinking that way. And that there is a different way to think about your body.”
On top of everything else in her life, this June, Rosie married her partner of five years: Nick Snow, Manager of U of T Intramurals and former captain of the school’s basketball team, the Varsity Blues. The couple met when they were both students, and bonded through their involvement with the 2015 Pan Am Games. “He is probably the best human I’ve ever met,” she says. “He’s been incredibly supportive of me.”
“Rosie has always had an amazing work ethic and is relentless in her pursuit of excellence. The athlete we see today is a combination of her natural drive, talent and belief in herself, which has all come together to make her a champion. It was a privilege and joy to train alongside Rosie. Above and beyond her being an amazing athlete, she is an incredible person and role model who continuously volunteers her time to many positive initiatives.” —Karen Cockburn, three-time Olympic medallist, trampoline
Leaps and bounds
With so much going on personally and professionally, it would be easy for Rosie to lose sight of her goals. But then, that would get in the way of her continued effort to build momentum. For now, and at least the next couple of years, she has a 2020 vision of what she wants to achieve.
“I’d like to earn a spot for Tokyo,” she says. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been healthy and not had other things on my plate, so I really want to give myself a chance to get back to full strength and be able to focus on that.”
Her commitment to trampoline and training is unwavering. But she also bears a secret weapon that ensures success no matter what the final score: a permanent reminder of what matters most. Her left rib sports a tattoo with the words As long as I breathe.
“To me, it’s a mantra and kind of a culmination of all the quotes I use (for inspiration),” she says. “It’s to remind me to be present, to be focused, to do my best to be the best whatever I can be, whether that’s the best person or athlete. As long as I’m breathing, I know I’ll be okay because I have support around me and people around me who care.”
Rosie believes in the importance of setting high goals. “They can be really motivating and can fuel your passion,” she says. Yet the real key is to value the daily, ongoing work that lays the groundwork for success, in sport and in life. “If you’re focusing on being the best athlete that you can be, you’re going to get what you’re supposed to out of the experience. Winning gold isn’t the experience; it’s everything leading up to that moment that really teaches you the values of sports and the values that you can carry over into the rest of your life.”
So she continues to go about the day-to-day duties involved in qualifying for and competing at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games. She knows that, no matter what happens between now and then, she’ll be happy just to be jumping on a trampoline, propelling herself onward and upward, knowing that her anchors will always be there for her in between bounces.
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For the latest on Rosie, you can follow @RosieMacLennan on Twitter and Instagram.
Thank you to Kickass Canadian Henry Smith for nominating Rosie, and to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia’s Julian Smith for helping make this interview possible.