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Lifelong passion . . . Pathfinders Gymnastics coach Heather Smith has been coaching the club for 50 years. PHOTO: KAYLA HODGE

A 10th birthday present turned into a lifelong gift for Heather Smith.

On her 10th birthday, Smith received her first Pathfinders Gymnastics Club membership, having been dragged to the club by other family members for several years.

She loved gymnastics and started helping out at the club from a young age.

When she experienced some health issues, she decided to stop training and just focus on coaching — and as she says, ‘‘the rest is history’’.

This year, Smith celebrates 50 years of coaching at the Pathfinders Gymnastics Club. She has spent countless hours volunteering at the Drill Hall coaching children, taking them to competitions, making leotards and organising club events.

Coaching was her ‘‘whole identity’’ — she had dedicated her life to the club.

Teaching the club’s 80 young gymnasts all of the proper techniques and seeing the smiles on their faces — ‘‘particularly when they achieve something they haven’t been able to do’’ — made her ‘‘truly happy’’, she said.

In the ‘‘old days’’ she used to fill her car with children and take them to competitions throughout the South Island. She fondly recalled taking two Oamaru teams to a Christchurch competition where they placed first and second.

‘‘They were different times, they were simpler times — a lot more fun without all the rules and restrictions from Covid,’’ Smith said.

Pathfinders was established in 1907 and is New Zealand’s longest consecutive running gymnastics club.

It was was a small club, but it had nearly everything it needed, which was down to a hardworking fundraising team and a supportive community.

Pathfinders chairwoman Sara Brown said Smith was a huge part of the club, and everyone was grateful for her dedication.

‘‘She’s our taonga and an utter treasure. There’s such wisdom there,’’ Brown said.

Smith had watched gymnastics change over the years, but had always stuck to her tried-and-true formula for coaching.

Brown said Smith had a ‘‘bit of a tut about her’’ but her gymnasts were exact and precise in everything they did.

‘‘She gets everything right from the word go . . .she develops excellence,’’ Brown said.

‘‘The kids know that if Heather acknowledges that they’ve done something right that it’s a big deal.’’