“It’s what we've been training for and preparing for a long time, so it’s both nerve-wracking and exciting.”
Those are the words of Welsh rhythmic gymnast Gemma Frizelle as she and her team-mates prepare for a massive next three weeks.
First up is the Rhythmic Gymnastics British Championships in Telford this weekend, followed a fortnight later by the Welsh Championships in Cardiff.
Then a few days later, Team Wales are set to announce all of the athletes who have been selected to compete at this year’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
For Carmarthen-born Gemma, 24, it would be her second Games having also been part of Team Wales on the Gold Coast four years ago and just reward for lots of hard work, in and of the gym, over the past couple of COVID-19 hit years.
“Yes, it's a busy yet exciting period,” she said.
“To us, the British and Welsh are almost like steppingstones on the way to our main goal, the Commonwealth Games.
“It’s what we've been training for and preparing for a long time, so it's both nerve-wracking and exciting and I'm grateful to have such great people by my side to share this experience with.
“It would mean the world to me if I was chosen to compete in a second Commonwealth Games.
“It's one of the few multi-sport competitions where rhythmic gymnasts will compete, which is really exciting, and having the chance to represent Wales is always such an honour.
“Although the Gold Coast was fantastic, I am really looking forward to competing in a home Games.
“Given that Birmingham is far more accessible to Welsh supporters than the Gold Coast was, I can only imagine how fantastic the atmosphere will be, especially considering how great they were in Australia, which was so far away from home.”
Gemma, along with fellow Commonwealth longlist gymnasts and Llanelli RGA teammates Elizabeth Popova, Lauryn Carpenter and Emily Cullen, have been training and competing hard so far in 2022 travelling across the continent to compete in Greece, Serbia and Estonia, along with a training camp in Gibraltar.
Gemma, who is part of the British senior rhythmic squad, also earned GB selection for a World Cup series event in Azerbaijan last month. Last year she competed for Britain at the European Championships in Bulgaria and went to the Worlds in 2018.
But preparation and achieving the ultimate goal of a Team Wales spot for Birmingham hasn’t been so straightforward, as she explains: “This year's training has definitely been challenging.
“The code of points was updated at the end of last year, which was later than usual due to the postponement of the Olympic Games, so everyone had to have their routines ready for competition in far less time than in the past.
“This year, the Commonwealth Games are our primary focus, so instead of having 18 months to work on new routines and have them ready for the Games, we only have six months, which has been quite chaotic.
“The past few international competitions I’ve done have primarily served to trial my new routines, make adjustments, receive feedback from judges and coaches, and now I’m just setting my final routines in preparation for the British Championships next weekend.
“These international competitions have thus been quite challenging, as going clean has not been a realistic goal. However, at this stage in the year, I know that mistakes are to be expected so I have just tried to learn from each competition and make small improvements in each one.
“I don't like setting outcome goals for myself as I can’t control what the other athletes do, so in order for me to consider this competition (British Championships) a success, I'll have competed all of my routines as I know I can do them. I believe that if I do that, everything will fall into place.”
This weekend’s Rhythmic British Championships will be the first since 2019 with the past two editions cancelled as a result of COVID-19.
Gemma heads there as a three-time British all-around medallist, including bronze three years ago having won silver in 2016 and 2017.
She will then head to the Welsh Championships as defending senior Welsh rhythmic champion.
With Elizabeth aged 15, Lauryn 17 and Emily 16, Gemma is now very much the senior member of the longlist group, both in terms of age and experience.
But she is enjoying the challenge of setting an example and being a role model for her younger team-mates and guiding them in the same way past Welsh rhythmic icons Frankie Jones and Laura Halford did for her.
Gemma continued: “Yes, I've looked up to Frankie and Laura since the first day I walked into the gym.
“I started rhythmic late (12/13 years old), so I was always trying to catch up to the other girls' level, and both Frankie and Laura were really influential in my growth; not only physically but also mentally.
“To be honest, I couldn't have wished for better teammates, and that goes for all of the girls in the 2014 Commonwealth longlist squad.
"Frankie and Laura and I had a great bond; we were like sisters, and after Frankie retired in 2014, she stayed to coach, so I was fortunate to still have her by my side.
“Laura had been my training partner virtually since the beginning, and we had gone through so much together in the lead up to Gold Coast that it was tough for me to adjust when she retired in 2018, especially with the added responsibility of being the gym’s most experienced member.
“My current teammates are all a little younger than I am, so I've attempted to mentor and guide them in the same manner that Frankie and Laura did for me, particularly with the younger squads.
“Lauryn (Carpenter) and I do the majority of our training together, and it’s really great training with her.
“We try to push each other and pick each other up when necessary, and we're really just enjoying the journey to Birmingham together.”
Having earned a Sport & Exercise Science degree from Cardiff Met, Gemma has also found time to fit in a Masters in Psychology, recently graduating from Cardiff University.
And Gemma has paid tribute to the role her coach, Nia Evans, played in helping her achieve her academic potential alongside her sporting success.
“My coach, Nia, can attest to the fact that it hasn't been easy,” said Gemma, who is also a former Llandaff Cathedral School student.
“I am quite a last-minute person, so there were a few occasions when I had to pull all-nighters to finish my assignments. I would never have completed my undergrad or postgrad if it wasn’t for Nia who always was so supportive and accommodated my training schedule around my university commitments as much as she could.
“She was a bit apprehensive when I told her I was going to do a Masters, but we made it work.
“During lockdown, I tried to make the best of a bad situation by focusing entirely on my undergraduate dissertation during the extra time at home.
“We were back in the gym training but still in lockdown when I started my Masters, so it was virtually all online. This worked out well for me because I was able to attend training while still being able to catch up on my lectures afterwards because they were all recorded.
“I'm not sure what I want to do next, academically, or professionally.
“I joked with Nia about starting a PhD, but I'm pretty sure she would not approve if I was to start it before the Games.
“For the time being, I’m simply focusing on my gymnastics, and I will work it out when I have more free time.”