TEAM UNDERDOG
CANADA'S MIGHTY MOUSE JOINS FORCES WITH UNDERDOG

Helping Future Star

Swimming legend helps future star

Olympian Elaine Tanner helps fund dreams of young gymnast

Ian Austin, The Province

Published: Wednesday, October 28, 2009

01Mighty Mouse met her mini-match Tuesday afternoon. Elaine Tanner, whose triple-medal performance in 1968 remains a high-water mark in Canada’s Olympic history, has spotted the same determination and drive in Tamara O’Brien, a high-flying gymnast and trampoline athlete.

“I’ll have to call you Mini-Mouse,” Tanner said yesterday as mentor and protege met at Coquitlam’s Como Lake Middle School, where 12-year-old Tamara studies and readies for the World Trampoline Championships next month.

Former Olympic swimming star Elaine Tanner, says she sees a lot of herself in Tamara O’Brien, who is chasing her own dreams as a gymnast and trampoline athlete.

“I see a lot of myself in you. When I saw your video, I was amazed. I know you’re so talented.

“I’d be proud to have you follow in my footsteps.”

The two both started as gymnasts at an early age, because their parents couldn’t keep them from climbing all over everything in sight.

“My grandfather called me ‘Fidget’, because I never stood still,” recalled Tanner. “When I was three or four, I’d be climbing all over everything, so they put me in gymnastics.

“I didn’t know if I’d be a gymnast, a figure skater, or a swimmer, but I knew I’d do something.”

Tamara was a little awestruck at first, but opened up as Tanner told her to “concentrate on your performance, the results will follow.”

“It’s so cool to be sitting here with an Olympian,” said Tamara, who like Tanner can light up a room with her smile.

“I feel like I do my best when I’m under pressure.”

Tanner and Tamara share the same drive and determination, but also the same humble beginnings. Tanner still recalls that in 1966 — before she shocked the world by winning seven tamara-obrienmedals at the Commonwealth Games — she had to go to the U.S. nationals with no help, no coach, and no funds. Now Tanner, dubbed Mighty Mouse, is trying to help Tamara get some funding of her own, as single mom Tina Geulen never anticipated the costs associated with having a world-class athlete in her household.

“I totally didn’t expect this kind of success,” Geulen said of her daughter, who matched Tanner’s Commonwealth medal haul this June by winning seven medals at the Canadian Trampoline Championships. “It’s actually pretty crazy when you see what they do. It’s a special breed.”

The 43-year-old billing clerk just didn’t expect to see an endless stream of bills. “It all adds up — it doesn’t just end with Russia. The question is, at what point do you say, ‘We just can’t afford it.’ ”

Barb Fraser of Trampoline Artistic Gymnastics has been Tamara’s coach for five years. “She was pretty talented right from the beginning,” said Fraser. “It’s pretty impressive. Fraser said that because of Tamara’s young age, there’s little funding available. “The parents pay for it, which is especially difficult for single-parent families,” said Fraser. “Not a lot of sponsorship money trickles down to developing athletes.”

Tanner has set up a bank account for Tamara, in hopes her mom doesn’t have to choose whether or not to continue supporting her daughter’s athletic dreams. Anyone interested can donate to the Scotiabank account under the name Tamara O’Brien/Martina Geulen. The transit number is 80200, the account number is 0132128.

Tanner, who looks fit enough to swim up a storm decades after her Olympic year, provided Tamara with an autographed photo, emblazoned with one of her favourite phrases: “A dream sets the path. “The joy comes in following it.”

Tamara-Gold-Tumbling-Nov18-webThe pair talked of their successes, and Tanner provided some athletic advice. “You are driven, and I was driven. It’s something that comes from inside — I can see the glow. “You have the will to win — you either have it or you don’t, and you do.”

After a warm hug between the two high-performance athletes came Tanner’s parting words:  “You’ll have to let me know how you’re doing, so we can stay in close contact.”

iaustin@theprovince.com