Gymnasts' friendship travels across borders

When you're young, you have expectations that you and your best friend will always be together.

Ultimately, that isn't the reality for most. However, Eastern Michigan gymnasts Natalie Gervais and Sydney McEachern have brought a ten year friendship all the way from Winnipeg to Ypsilanti.

Gervais and McEachern first met when McEachern joined the Springers Gymnastics club team in 2005.

From there it was immediate friendship.

“We got moved to a different group because we went to Nationals in 2007,” Gervais said.

From there, they spent the next five years competing together.

“We had actually been to Nationals five times with Springers and Team Manitoba,” McEachern said.

McEachern and Gervais continued to train and compete together and in 2009 Steve Wilce came to watch them compete at Nationals and let them know he was interested in them for the Eastern Michigan gymnastics team.

“I didn’t even know what college gymnastics was because we don’t have it in Canada,” McEachern said.

That is when they first had thoughts of spending college together and competing.

“At Nationals, the two of us were in a dorm room and heard Eastern was looking at us and were joking ‘What if we ended up at Eastern together and lived in a dorm together?’” McEachern said.

By Photo Courtesy of the Gervais Family

Sydney, left, and Natalie after a meet in 2006.

“We thought it was the funniest thing,” Gervais said.

“She was a year older and so we never thought it could happen,” McEachern said.

Fast forward to 2012 when Gervais was wrapping up her senior year of high school and she was hoping for a full-ride offer for gymnastics. Eastern Michigan had offered a walk-on spot but, financially, she knew that couldn’t work.

Gervais decided to take a year off and figure everything out about her gymnastics future and train for the upcoming University Games while McEachern spent that time finishing her senior year knowing that she was already headed to Eastern Michigan.

"I didn’t have any offers from anywhere else so I was just doing my thing,” Gervais said. “It pretty much came down to if I didn’t have an offer after University Games, then I would be done.”

Gervais competed for Team Canada at the 2013 World University Games in Russia giving her an extremely memorable experience if indeed her gymnastics career was over.

“It was like my Olympics,” Gervais said. “It was a pretty cool way to end my career in Canada.”

Then later that year, Gervais walked into Springers and was called into the office. She learned that Eastern Michigan was prepared to offer her a full-ride scholarship.

“Steve and Andie [Price] had been talking to my coaches,” Gervais said. “All this time I thought no one was recruiting me meanwhile Eastern was.”

For Gervais, it was an immediate answer knowing she could spend the next four years with McEachern.

“It’s funny because I had never been on a visit,” Gervais said. “She [Sydney] had already been there so I trusted her. I knew I wasn’t going to get a better offer than going off with my best friend.”

The excitement for both was too much.

“I’m pretty sure you came over after [you found out],” McEachern said. “My parents found out before hers did.”

It was an experience that made both Natalie and Sydney’s parents excited and thankful.

"When we learned they would be able to attend Eastern and share the experience together, we were thrilled,” Claudine Gervais, Natalie’s mother, said. "They always know they have someone to compete alongside them, someone to count on and someone to celebrate how far they’ve come. They’re family.”

Gervais and McEachern are the first from their hometown gym, Springers, to compete on a NCAA Division I college team.

Now, with both Gervais and McEachern wrapping up their junior season together, looking back at the past three years, they wouldn’t have wanted to spend it any other way.

“You can’t even put into words how nice it is to have someone that you know and can rely on,” Gervais said. “I can’t imagine doing it without her.”

"She’s been there since I started competing,” McEachern said. “It’s crazy how our whole life of competing in gymnastics will be together until the very last meet. To share that experience is unbelievable.”

Both have contributed to the 13-3-1 season that the Eagles have had so far including Gervais posting a career-high 9.9 on bars and a 9.925 on the beam while McEachern has had career-highs on the bars with a 9.800 and on floor with a 9.875.

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