When renowned Chinese gymnast and coach Zou Li Min drowned while rock fishing in 2015 at South Durras, it had a profound impact on many in the Canberra gymnastic community.
Mr Zou had guided the careers of several emerging Canberra gymnasts. Many felt the loss. Some struggled to find meaning in the sport.
From the age of 12 until he turned 20, Canberra gymnast James Bacueti had been coached by Mr Zou.
James felt the loss more than most.
“He was an incredible part of my life inside and beyond the gym,” James says. “He was always about dreaming big.”
And James has always been dreaming big.
His mother enrolled him in gymnastics almost as soon as he could walk, a perfect environment for the energetic child.
As he progressed in the sport, training 26 hours a week at the Woden Valley Gymnastics Club, his dreams grew; he wanted to compete at the world championships, the Commonwealth Games and the Olympics.
Alongside him for much of that journey was Mr Zou.
His death forced James to question his own purpose.
“I didn’t stop training but struggled during 2016 and 2017 with personal issues and injury,” he says. “I had surgeries, and it was tough.”
Mr Zou would have been inspired by the determination James has shown to succeed after coming out of that dark period.
Now 27, James has won selection in his first Australian Commonwealth Games team and will be competing in Floor, Vault and Pommel.
“I remember watching the Commonwealth Games as a kid. This has been my dream. This is the biggest moment of my career so far.”
As he received confirmation of his selection, James couldn’t help but think about Mr Zou’s impact on his career and life. His influence ultimately led to this point of time.
“I would have loved to have him here for this moment.”
While this moment is important, James is already looking beyond Birmingham.
“I definitely want to keep going, at least for the remainder of this Olympic cycle with Paris 2024. And if my body holds up, I would love to go for another Olympic cycle after Paris.”
By which time he will be 33.
“I love the sport.”
His contagious passion could make anyone contemplate taking up the sport. But most of us can only watch on and feel the thrill of competition through this incredible gymnast’s feats.
James in turn will be carrying the memory of a coach as he prepares for the Commonwealth Games; a coach who encouraged, guided and inspired him to do his very best; a coach who taught him to dream big.