Interview with Former Canadian Olympian Stella Umeh

From Olympic glory to Cirque success

By Lisa Van De Ven


You started gymnastics at the age
of six. How did you get involved in the sport?

STELLA: It was completely by chance, actually. I started dancing at the age of four and my mother was always looking for new things [to sign me up for] because I had so much energy. Then one day we were driving along and got lost, as we often did, and happened to stop for directions at a gymnastics school. I was like a kid in a candy shop that day! I wanted to try everything out, and was enrolled in classes a week later.


Were you good right away?

STELLA: I was definitely blessed with a propensity for the sport. When I think back on it now, it was my songmy sermon. But I didn’t eat, breathe and sleep the sport either. I was a normal kid.


After representing Canada at the Olympics you worked with Cirque du Soleil. Was it competitive?

STELLA:It was for most of the performers, but not so much for me. It’s a Canadian company and most of the people involved were people who knew me, who’d seen me grow up as a competitor. I wanted to get my university degree, so I originally put Cirque off to do that. It was only after I graduated that I told them I was ready.


You’re still working with Cirque, as well as acting and motivational speaking. What will be the focus for your future?

STELLA: I like to mix it up. I have a trapeze act I’m currently working on, and I’m performing with a theatre group called MT Space. I think, more than anything, I see myself as a storyteller, in that I tell stories through my art. Physically, I won’t be able to do that through gymnastics for the rest of my life, so I’m exploring other avenues. I really love motivational speaking, and I would love to be a successful working actress. I think Canada needs a heavy-hitting black female actress.


What would your advice be for young people looking to build a career as competitive as yours?

STELLA: I think the most important thing is to really take the time to think about it, to try to figure out whether this is the right thing for you. And be prepared to stick by it through the disappointments.

Stella’s Fit Tips

• Get plenty of sleep.
• Drink lots of water.
• Eat healthily and try to eliminate
sugar from your diet.
• Just get up and go! Be active but do things you enjoy. If you enjoy it, you’ll want to do more of it.