For the first time in the history of her sport, rhythmic gymnast Annabelle Kovacs will dance to music with lyrics.
The Vancouver athlete selected a number from the Broadway musical Chicago for her ribbon routine and will reveal the new choreography and music at the Elite Canada Championships in March.
The 16-year-old trains five hours a day, five days a week with the Aura Rhythmics and will debut new choreography in her ribbon routine as well as clubs, her favourite apparatus.
"It's a new style I haven't revealed before," she said. "It's out of my comfort zone but at the same time it'll be enjoyable to watch."
Kovacs continues to dedicate countless hours with her coaches to develop the new routines, an opportunity the junior national team athlete doesn't take for granted.
Instead of merely practising her skills, the takes a more serious approach and says she trains to "perfect" and "prepare."
"Am I driven? Definitely," she said.
In pursuit of her ambitions, Kovacs can structure her life around daily afternoon training sessions and an international competition schedule because she attends an elite public school for high-achieving athletes and artists, known as SpArts.
Boasting 140 students from around the Lower Mainland, SpArts is a specialized academic program that has operated in Kerrisdale at Magee secondary since it was launched in 1985 by teacher Bill McNulty, now a Richmond councillor.
"If I didn't do SpArts, I don't know if I would have been able to continue with gymnastics," she said. "School is also really important for me. I think I would have had to choose between one or the other."
More students apply for the program than are accepted, said Nick Akrap, Magee's vice principal and SpArts coordinator for the past two years.
SpArts, an inventive mash-up between the words sports and arts, is flexible education for Grades 8 to 12.
Students arrive at the school in the morning to take their core curriculum classes, such as math, English, science and social studies. By noon, they are dismissed to pursue their passion.
"Students are basically here for academics," said Akrap, noting the five school counsellors who carefully supervise students' graduation requirements. "They're not taking any electives here."
A cellist will get a fine arts credit to satisfy graduation demands. A tennis player will be credited with P.E.
SpArts students train a minimum 25 hours each week and must maintain a B average, which Akrap said is very rarely a problem for the kind of focused, determined and disciplined teenagers accepted to the program.
"They are very motivated, both in whatever they're doing inside the school an outside in their own lives," he said. "SpArts students have a distinct maturity about them, especially the dancers."
Roughly one third of SpArts students study at classic ballet and dance schools such as the Goh Ballet Academy and the Arts Umbrella.
The program does not accommodate team sports, but caters to individual athletes like badminton, ping pong and tennis players as well as swimmers and fencers. For the first time for a trial year, two skiers were accepted to SpArts.
SpArts students take class alongside mainstream students but miss out on many social aspects of high school because they forfeit diversity in their courses as well as lunchtime gossip, after-school clubs, or trying out for the Magee Lions. In pursuit of the podium, Kovacs makes sacrifices.
"I never got to go to a cooking class or high school gym class," said the Grade 11 student. "Even ski club - I was never able to go to ski camp or Whistler. There are certain things you miss out on, but you have to look at both sides because I'm gaining something."
For two consecutive years, Kovacs finished second at Canadian championships. Last spring she travelled to France for the Rhythmic Gymnastics World Cup.
A structured life means she must manage her time carefully and complete tasks on schedule. Kovacs lives in the West End and is dropped of at Magee some mornings for a 7 a.m. class, which begins more than an hour before mainstream classes. She busses to the gym near 25th and Oak for training.
"The thing with doing sports, it teaches you how to set goals for yourself. I think it makes us more ambitious and it teaches you how to set goals for yourself. Not only, at SpArts, do they help us along with goals and competition, but in our school goals as well."