When Donna Forward played keyboard accompaniment for the German folk choir at the 100 Mile Olympic Torch Relay celebration, it was far from being her first Olympic experience.
She is currently a languages and French Immersion teacher at Peter Skene Ogden Secondary School, but in days gone by, Forward was the personal piano accompanist to Canada’s only Olympic gold-medal rhythmic gymnast, Lori Fung.
She played an integral part in the performance that won Fung the gold medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympic Games, but their partnership began in the Cariboo.
In the early 1980s, Forward worked summers at the Double T Guest Ranch at Bridge Lake, leading trail rides for her friend Marisa Peter, who also coached a very active rhythmic gymnastics club at Bridge Lake. Fung was a good friend of Peter through their gymnastics backgrounds and the future gold medallist would occasionally spend time at the ranch to get a break from her training.
“I knew she was a pretty good athlete at the time, but that was about it,” says Forward.
“I’d put Lori on a horse every morning and give it a slap on the butt. She wasn’t much of a rider, but she’d hang on for dear life and just have a great time. I probably would have been a lot more careful if I’d known what calibre athlete she actually was.”
Forward was a music student at Capilano College at the time and Peter tapped into her talents by recording pieces of piano music she’d have Forward play. The music was then used for club members’ rhythmic routines.
Fung heard and liked the music, and in 1990, Forward agreed to be her piano accompanist for practice sessions and when she performed her routines at competition.
While routines are currently done to recorded music, Forward says back then, it was required that routines be done to live music.
“The piano player actually followed the gymnast and played in time to her routine. If a throw went too high, for instance, you’d extend the music to go along with it and keep it in time.”
The partnership lasted until 1990 and during that time, Forward followed Fung all over the world for competitions and other events.
It was through this experience that Forward learned the importance of languages and it was also the spark that resulted in her becoming a teacher.
“Lori trained in Bulgaria for a month and they gave her a coach who only spoke Bulgarian, Russian and German. I’d learned some German through working at the ranch during the summers, but it wasn’t all that good.
“Never-the-less, I was the translator. That was an experience.”
There were several trips to France, Japan, Korea and to Spain for the World Championships.
“Spain was the most fun. They held it in a bull-fighting type arena and it was like being at a gold-medal hockey game because the place was packed with excited spectators,” Forward says, adding it was also a nerve-wracking experience.
“My knees were literally banging together at the grand piano and I had to hold them together to keep them still.”
Back at home, Fung practised in the University of British Columbia
gym early every morning with Forward at the
piano and for the rest of the day, Forward would take classes at the university. She’d wrap up the day with a few more evening hours in the gym and a few hours of homework.
At the end of it all, Forward had her teaching degree in music education, the mastery of several languages and memories of Olympic and other world-class competition to last a lifetime.
“And it all started in the Cariboo. And I’m