Sometimes teachers can go through their careers unaware of the profound influence they have had on a student’s life. Fortunately for one teacher, Rosie MacLennan isn’t the kind of person to leave a debt of gratitude unpaid.

The 24-year-old trampolinist from King City, Ont., leaped to worldwide prominence when she won Canada’s first gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics in the women’s trampoline event. When asked who had helped her the most to get to that exalted place, she first gave credit to her athletic coaches and then paused to offer thanks to a special someone she recalled working with back in Grade 5 at King City PS.

“She helped build my personal sense of confidence away from the world of sports. She taught me to work on my weaknesses, as well as my strengths. She taught me how to sense opportunities for growth and learning,” says MacLennan. “And, best of all, she framed it in a possible way: ‘You can do this, Rosie,’ she’d say, ‘you can.’”

Rosie MacLennan on the trampoline.

The object of her gratitude is Lori Baskin, OCT — a 25-year veteran of the Ontario education system — and she remembers MacLennan just as vividly. “Rosie was special,” Baskin recalls. “She was always managing 50 different things at once. She wanted to try everything — not just the trampoline but dancing, gymnastics and violin. She was busy every single night after school and she balanced everything, and she did it all with grace and poise.”

She helped build my personal sense of confidence away from the world of sports. She taught me to work on my weaknesses, as well as my strengths.

MacLennan has a different perspective on that time: “Grade 5 was challenging for me. I was an awkward girl. I had difficulty making and keeping friends. I had one friend but we were different from all the other girls in the class. Mrs. Baskin helped us to understand that that could be okay,” she says.

Baskin laughs at the memory. “Rosie was petite, just 5 feet, and her best friend, Caitlin, was much taller. They were the most unlikely pair, but they were together all the time. And I gave them all the support I could.”

Looking back, it seems that both Baskin and MacLennan were at a kind of turning point when they first met. Baskin was just emerging from maternity leave after having triplets and MacLennan, along with the rest of her class, was coping with the sudden departure of their previous teacher.

“We were a pretty tempestuous class and I think we totally wore out the other teacher! But Mrs. Baskin was up for the challenge,” recalls MacLennan. “She was very open to conversation — that was the first thing we noticed. She would guide us rather than order us. She was encouraging and positive. And she had all the patience in the world.”

Baskin’s firm and steady actions were the foundation of what she offered her students, but her other gift was the sensitivity to notice when something out of the ordinary was needed.

She recalls a particular math test where MacLennan had received a perfectly respectable grade but felt that she could have done much better. “I remember there was a little bench in the front hall that she was sitting on. I sat next to her and said ‘You have to shake this off and go on. In the grand scheme of things, this is nothing.’ And that’s just what she did. She didn’t lament about it too long — just figured out what she needed to do to improve. That’s the kind of determination that took her to the top of the Olympics, even though it probably wasn’t on her mind back then.”

MacLennan with her medal.

Strangely enough, that’s one thing Baskin got wrong about MacLennan. “I was always focused on the Olympics, even in Grade 5,” MacLennan admits. “It was such a strong passion that I wrote stories about me in the Olympics. It’s funny, they weren’t about me playing in the Games or winning. Just about being there — being on the plane, flying over. That was enough to fuel my dream.”

The King City PS gifted program eventually moved to Aurora Senior PS and both Baskin and MacLennan once again ended up at the same school. Even though they no longer shared the same classroom, MacLennan continued to be part of Baskin’s life. Baskin remembers seeing MacLennan perform in a school show. “People would look on in awe at Rosie, even then. She bounced so high that she hit the ceiling, but that didn’t stop her. When one ceiling was too low, she found one that was higher. I knew then that she would succeed at whatever she decided to do.”

After the Olympics, MacLennan went back to Aurora Senior PS to speak to the students and Baskin introduced her. “She [Baskin] talked about what I had been like and how determined I was,” MacLennan remembers, “and I told the kids that the secret is to find something you really love and hold on to it. You are your own limiting factor. If you cut yourself off from a possibility, then you’re virtually making sure you’ll never get what you want.”