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Rosie MacLennan inspired by grandfather's love of gymnastics

Trampoline gold medallist Rosie MacLennan grew up with the Olympic spirit, but it was her grandfather's passion for gymnastics that truly drew her to the sport.

World War II prevented Lorne Aldon Patterson from 1940 Summer Games

Rosie MacLennan’s roots in gymnastics stem from her grandfather’s passion for the sport. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

By Tim Wharnsby, CBC Sports

You could say that Canada's flag-bearer for the Rio Games opening ceremony was raised with the Olympic Spirit.

Even though trampoline star Rosie MacLennan was a few weeks shy of her fourth birthday she remembers being glued to the television at her family's cottage, watching the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

"Tell me a story about her," MacLennan would ask her parents when Canadian rower Silken Laumann courageously won bronze in the single skulls.

MacLennan would learn how three months before the Olympics, Laumann severely injured her leg in a training accident when her smaller boat collided with the coxless pair boat of Germans Colin von Ettinghausen and Peter Hoeltzenbein.

How Laumann required a three-week hospital stay and five operations before she swiftly returned to training on the water six weeks later. How Laumann miraculously recovered in time to finish third and her inspiring comeback made her an easy choice as Canadian flag-bearer for the closing ceremony.

"Yes, I have had the chance to tell Silken what she means to me," said the 27-year-old MacLennan, the only Canadian gold-medal winner at the 2012 London Games. "She thought it was really cool."

What was it that struck MacLennan back in 1992?

"It seemed like magic to me when I watched the opening ceremonies, then watching them compete over the next 16 days in a sport they had a passion for," MacLennan said.

"That really was a connection for me. Even at that age I had an understanding that it wasn't easy, but it was possible to chase your dreams."


Grandfather's Olympic dream

It wasn't until years later MacLennan was jumping her way up the trampoline ranks, when she learned about her grandfather's Olympic dream.

The late Lorne Aldon Patterson, MacLennan's maternal grandfather, was known as gramps to MacLennan, her sister and two brothers.

He was an athlete to the day he passed away four years ago. You name the sport Patterson likely played it. But back in his athletic prime, he was a gymnast, competing for the University of Toronto varsity team. As he worked toward a degree in mechanical engineering, Patterson was good enough to qualify for the 1940 Summer Games in Tokyo.

But those Olympics eventually were cancelled because of World War II.

After Patterson graduated he volunteered for the Canadian Armed Forces, wound up being stationed in Guelph, performing duties for the Federal Wire and Cable team.

Gramps always has been a big inspiration for MacLennan.

"I was inspired by the Olympics as a young kid even before I knew what sport I was going to do," MacLennan said.

"My family didn't treat it as a joke, probably because of my grandfather. When he heard about my dream of the Olympics he encouraged me to pursue sport and later trampoline."

MacLennan didn't know about how close Patterson was to becoming a Canadian Olympian until the 2007 Trampoline world championships in Quebec City. At stake were Olympic spots for the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing. As her and her synchro partner, Karen Cockburn, sat around to see if they would qualify, Patterson shared his story in detail with his granddaughter.


Tears of joy

When Cockburn and MacLennan won spots for Beijing, there was Patterson, so proud with tears streaming down his face.

The next summer, a couple weeks before MacLennan left for Beijing, Patterson told her stories about his athletic endeavours long into a summer night. Unfortunately, he passed a way a few days later and never got to see her perform in Beijing or win in London. But MacLennan knows he's been watching.

"He was definitely a source, and continues to be a source of inspiration," MacLennan said. "I had plenty of emotional times with him, listening to him and his message. He always told me to keep pushing.

"He was proud of me no matter what happened."

Because of Patterson, gymnastics ran deep in the MacLennan family. Rosie is the youngest and often followed her siblings to gymnastic practice before she gravitated toward the trampoline. That is how she found her sport.

In the last six world championships, MacLennan has won gold in individual, two silvers in individual, two silvers in synchro and a bronze in individual. Her streak of world championship podium visits ended last fall when she finished fourth after suffering a concussion.

But she has regained her form in 2016, winning a World Cup event in Switzerland in June with the second best score of her career.

She also will take with her to Rio not only her Grandfather's words, but her double gold-medal performance at the Pan Am Games in Toronto last summer in individual and synchro with Cockburn.

"The Pan Ams definitely was one of the highlights of my athletic career," MacLennan said. "To compete at home is something not all athletes get to do. I will cherish it forever to be able to win gold with Karen, my mentor."

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