In celebration of International Women’s Day (IWD), this week we're shining a spotlight on the career highlights of a few, of the many, inspirational women within our community.
Mel Jenkins, FIG Category 2 Judge and member of the MAG Commission
What drew you to Gymnastics as a sport?
Initially my parents signed me up for a class to work on gross motor skills and balance, but really I think it was because I was always climbing things at home.
For those who aren’t familiar with your history, can you tell us about your career journey?
I started coaching at the club where I grew up with some junior girls and gymstar while I was finishing school. However, it wasn't until I moved to another club where my MAG coaching journey began. On my third night in the gym, the Head MAG coach asked me “what is the most important skill in gymnastics”, I didn’t even get a hello or an introduction first. Answering confidently (no I’m not telling you my answer as this is one everyone should form their own response too) the coach introduced himself and told me I should be working in the MAG program. The following week I was.
From there, my journey really took off. I coached both MAG and WAG squads of different levels while building my coaching accreditations. Eventually, this resulted in my coaching a gymnast on the Victorian Junior Team in 2018 and concurrently completing my WAG FIG Academy 3.
How did you get into judging?
Initially I started judging because my club required a judge to attend competitions. While sitting on panels, I quickly realized that I enjoyed the evaluation of the routines. My first competition for MAG was actually National Clubs, where I judged level 2/3 pommel as a beginner judge. It just so happened that I judged my very first MAG session with one amazing lady, Kath Graham, who was one of the first women in the world to become a MAG FIG Judge, and petitioned the FIG to allow women to sit the course.
Image: 2022 National Championships, Gold Coast (Pommel Panel)
Not many people know that most judges have a 9-5, can you tell us how you manage both commitments, and how they complement each other?
My day job is as a physio and unfortunately no more a 9-5 profession than gymnastics. I have been really fortunate to be working two days per week in a high performance area at the Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School with the ballet program and then in general practice on the other days, where I primarily work with professional dancers. I’ve been really fortunate to find supportive mangers who encourage my commitment to gymnastics. There is always a balancing act when you’re busy, and I can say that I don’t always get it right. However, like in sport, practice is key.
From when you first started, how has Gymnastics grown?
From a coaching perspective, there has really been a change towards an athlete centered coaching practice and certainly a space to work with sports science on improving best practice as the sport moves forwards. In my time (feeling old now) we had the change of vault, equipment technology has improved and our athletes keep pushing the bar of what is possible. But the awe with which we all hold the athletes remains constant, as well as the sense of achievement on a gymnasts face when they achieve a new skill or hit a routine.
What does it mean to you to be one of the only, female, MAG FIG 2 judges in Australia?
Sometimes I must pinch and remind myself that I’m the “big judge” now, yes someone really called me that last year. It’s been an organic process with study and accumulating judging experience out on assignments. It’s a combination of some hard work and taking what opportunities have been available.
Image: 2018 Junior Asian Championships, Jakarta (Parallel Bars Panel)
How did you feel receiving the news about your first international judging appointment? Tell us about the emotions and the experience you felt arriving in Doha.
My first judging assignment was in Doha in 2013. I was so excited and a little nervous to be going. I got to Doha and being my first time to West Asia it was quite foreign. I remember arriving and collecting my accreditation and it said I was a WAG Judge - after a discussion it was altered to read MAG. This lead to almost being on the wrong bus and sent to the wrong judges briefing, but I did end up making it to where I was meant to be. I was lucky enough to be asked to do the draw (I pulled the countries out of a bowl for them to be assigned to apparatus). I drew rings and Pete Moon (also on first assignment) drew pommel. I remember we looked at each other across the podium a little stressed waiting for those first averages to come up – you have no idea if your judging is in line with the other judges until the score is published, as you aren’t allowed to be talking to the other judges. Fortunately, it all got a little less stressful after that first session.
What are some of the moments you’re most proud of over your gymnastics career?
Some of the key moments have been, passing my first FIG exam, my first FIG assignment, being invited as a neutral judge by the Asian Gymnastics Union. But, one of the key aspects of the job that I’m most proud of, is supporting our athletes in achieving their goals.
Image: 2019 Asian Junior Cup, Mongolia
10 years is a very long time, what are your most treasured memories across the years?
For me, it's about the people that I’ve been able to connect with and the places that I’ve travelled as a judge. I’ve been so fortunate to make some amazing friends in our international gymnastics community who I have regular contact with. I’ve also been able to see some amazing parts of the world, and share in culture, history and language, certainly broadening my world view.
As a judge and active member of the GA MAG Commission, you’re a strong advocate for education. Can you tell us a little bit about how you support the next generation of judges and why you feel education is so important to this role?
I’ve been really lucky to be appointed as a member of the Gymnastics Australia MAG commission this cycle and my project role is actually in education. We have a working group for judge education at the moment, and thanks to an amazing team of people we are currently reviewing all of our judge courses. We have also put together some pre-season judging assessments for all judges across the country involved in judging the senior season. Keeping up to date with trends and science are so important in gymnastics, to ensure that we give our athletes the best opportunity to progress in the sport as safely as possible.
What do you see for the future of Gymnastics?
I hope we continue to see the diverse development of athletes and programs across the world and the same in other gymsports.
Image: 2019 Asian Championships, Mongolia (Parallel Bars Panel)
What advice would you offer to an aspiring MAG athletes, coaches, or judges?
Some advice would be to always take up opportunities to learn, sit on panels, head into other programs and talk to coaches, so essentially take any opportunity to share or absorb knowledge from other gymnastics professionals. Keep working hard, it’s a sport that takes time to develop through levels, so it’s good to have that expectation that it will take some time to reach your goals, and to keep that long-term goal mindset when you have something that seems like a setback.
Is there anyone you would like to acknowledge or thank for their contribution to your continued success within the sport?
I think it’s important to take this moment to thank all the judges who have mentored me through my journey and those that have spent countless volunteer hours preparing judges courses and learning opportunities for our community. I would like to acknowledge Kath Graham for the work that she did petitioning the FIG to allow women to sit the MAG FIG Judges Course and in becoming one of the first women to achieve this accreditation. Without her amazing journey, our sport might be looking a little different.
Image: 2019 South East Asian Games, Manilla
Images provided by Mel Jenkins.