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Nelligan proud of six special years

Photograph by Blaire SimmonsThanks for the memories: Duke Nelligan, left, Chris Nelligan, centre, and Mandi Baughman help some of Bermuda’s aspiring gymnasts perfect their form at the National Training Centre in St David’s

Duke Nelligan hopes to be remembered for his relentless enthusiasm and appetite to “work hard when it sucks” after stepping down as the head coach of the Bermuda Gymnastics Association.

Nelligan has overseen the Island’s gymnastics programme since 2009 when he replaced Tina Williams and helped drive the transformation of the National Training Centre in Southside, St David’s, into one of the best facilities in the region.

He leaves the programme on solid footing, having watched Sydney Mason reach the all-around final at the Pan Am Games in Toronto, as well as the boys’ and girls’ teams win 36 medals at the Inter-Island Games in Anglesey.

“It’s been a very special six years for me and my wife Chris [who also worked as a BGA coach],” said Nelligan, who will remain in Bermuda for a little longer helping his successor, Adriana Forde, transition into her role.

“It’s easy to get choked up about leaving the Island as we’ve had such a great time here.

“The month of July was incredible with Sydney Mason, who is a unique individual, looking like she really belonged at the Pan Am Games in front of a crowd of about 20,000, while the boys had a great win at the Island Games. “The boys’ programme has only been going for three years, so that was really special.”

When Nelligan arrived on the Island the BGA training base was decrepit and decaying, hardly an environment conducive to attracting youngsters to take up an already minority sport.

But with the help of the local community, schools and parents, coupled with Nelligan’s own impressive DIY ingenuity, the BGA now have a headquarters to be proud of.

Complete with a $50,000 Loose Foam Pit, which enabled the base to host events for up to 1,000 athletes, the centre held its first international competition — the International Gymnastics Challenge — in 2012 and proved to be a more than suitable host for the NatWest Island Games the following year.

Nelligan believes it is imperative the centre continues to improve and provide perfect training conditions for the next generation of Bermudian gymnasts.

“Bermuda has lots of talent but if you don’t have a facility with a loose foam pit and spotting rigs the chances of the athletes learning the bigger skills is greatly diminished,” he said.

“When I arrived here the training centre was not set up for us to move to the next level. We sat down with the committee and said, ‘folks, the facility has to be a major part of our development.

“We now have a facility to support the Sydneys [Mason], Zantaes [Dill], Gabbys [Vincent] and Danielles [Wall]. That will always be here.”

Nelligan has no doubt that his successor Forde, who has spent the past 16 years coaching in Ontario, will move the programme forward, with the former University of Maryland head coach happy to serve as a sounding board if necessary.

“We gone from having a nice little programme to becoming a leader in this region,” he said. “It’s important we keep the ball rolling and I wouldn’t want to see moss growing on it and slowing it down. I’ll only be living an hour and 15 minutes away and I think I’d be back here saying, ‘you need to do this right now, let’s go!”

“I’m very proud of the infrastructure and a lot of those things that you perhaps don’t see. I’m sure the new head coach will be able to turn the fire up and take the athletes to the next level.”

Nelligan will soon return to Maryland and rejoin his wife who moved back last month, having become grandparents for the first time.

He said the couple had always intended to leave the Island should there be a new addition to the family.

“Taya is our very first grandchild and when we came on board six years ago I said, ‘listen folks, when we have a grandchild we’re out of here’,” said Nelligan, who has been approached by Gotland to help them prepare for the 2017 Island Games, which Sweden’s largest island will host.

“Taya Elizabeth Nelligan’s initials spell ‘TEN’ ... we’re obviously a gymnastics family!

“I stopped in for her birth after the Pan Am Games before I headed out to Anglesey for the Island Games. I guess the children [in the Bermuda programme] have been like our practice grandkids.”

Nelligan’s departure coincides with Mandi Baughman’s decision to move to Virginia after serving as a BGA assistant coach since 2007.

Baughman said that Bermuda’s medal-laden showing at the Inter-Island Games in Anglesey, as well successfully hosting the 2013 competition had been among her highlights.

“Duke and I have had a lot of the kids like Sydney, Tabitha, Gabby and Zantae for six years and we have grown really close with those girls,” she said.

“The recent Island Games was one of the best moments for me as a coach. Three of our kids performed double backs for the first time at a meet. Those little moments at our last competition together was really great.”