ISABEL Rogers was just a toddler when she started attending calisthenics classes to watch her sister - and though she didn’t join in at first, she had plenty of rhythm right from day one.
“Her big sister Mollie was doing calisthenics and she used to sit there in the pram watching her, wiggling her arms and legs around,” says mum Kylie of the early sign of things to come.
By the time she was three, the energetic youngster was ready and raring to have a go herself.
Fast forward a decade and the lithe young athlete has just competed at the Australian Calisthenics Federation’s national championships in Melbourne, representing Victoria.
She was the first Bendigo girl to make the highly competitive state squad.
Competing in the junior section, Isabel’s team finished third overall after six performances in the disciplines of figure march, club swinging, free exercise, rod exercise, aesthetics and dance arrangement.
Victoria was the highest-scoring state for their dance arrangement and came second with their rod and club routines.
Isabel says being on stage in front of a full house at Hamer Hall - including her immediate family, grandparents, aunties and Bendigo Calisthenics Club coaches - was an amazing experience and has led to her making some new friends for life.
“It was really good fun being with my 24 best friends out on stage, doing what I love doing,” the Creek Street Christian College student and Red House captain says.
“It was a very big stage and I wasn’t used to that, so I was really nervous before we went on, but that stopped as soon as we got out there.”
Calisthenics is a uniquely Australian sport that combines dancing, gymnastics, singing and apparatus use. Participants need musicality, strength and flexibility, agility, co-ordination and a strong sense of teamwork to be successful.
Her Bendigo coach Libby Fullard says the talented 13-year-old has all of those attributes - and more.
“For Isabel to transfer from a local-level, grass-roots calisthenics team in country Victoria and be able to perform in an elite team among the best girls in Australia is a wonderful achievement,” Fullard says.
“It is a testament to her love of the sport and her willingness to take on any form of feedback on how she can improve.
“She strives to do her best at all times - calisthenics really encompasses so many aspects and she can perform all those skills at a very high level.
“The experience she has gained over the past eight months from being involved in the state team has really allowed her to look at broadening her calisthenics base.
“As a coach, I feel honoured to have had the privilege of supporting her along her journey.”
Fullard says there are about 9000 registered calisthenics students in Victoria and there is often a strong family connection among the sport’s community.
That is certainly true in Isabel’s case.
Older sister Mollie is a member of Bendigo’s intermediate team and younger sibling Eliza is also an active participant.
Even mum Kylie got involved, spending a year performing with the club’s adult team that is made up mostly of other mothers.
The two older girls can often be found working together on their skills and technique around the Lockwood South home they also share with dad Steven and seven-year-old Cameron.
“Mollie is very supportive of her sister and give each other lots of advice,” their mother says.
“They are always stretching each other, helping each other learn a new trick or holding each other upside down around the house. I would definitely say that Isabel just lives calisthenics.”
Isabel applied to become a member of the Victorian squad last year and had to attend several auditions before she was advised she had been successful.
Every Saturday from last November until the national competition in July, she had been travelling to the Ministry of Dance studio in Melbourne for state team training.
The gruelling sessions would last up to eight hours - but Isabel took it all in her stride and would continue practising even after returning home from one of these mega-days.
To celebrate the honour of their state selection, Isabel and fellow junior and intermediate team members took part in the 2014 Moomba Parade, making their way through the streets of Melbourne immediately after the float containing king Bert Newton and queen Lucy Durack.
They also performed in the Victorian State Team Concert on June 27.
Isabel has enjoyed success with her Bendigo club team, which competes in division 10 at competitions around the state and earned several runners-up prizes last year.
She has also attended summer school classes with the elite Ceres club in Ashwood that boasts teams in the championship level at Calisthenics Victoria Inc. events.
As well as her team routines, Isabel competes in the “physical solo” section.
This sees her performing skills including front and back walkovers, splits on both legs and an impressive variety of high leaps to the song Welcome to Wonderland.
She has competitions over coming months in Echuca, Shepparton and Mountain District and the CVI state championships, where she is in her last year of juniors.
Last weekend, her team won the junior aggregate award at the Barwon calisthenics competition in Werribee.
“I love all of it,” Isabel says when asked what part of calisthenics she enjoyed best.
“But I really love the free arm routine, because you get to do all your tricks and it’s really fun.”