Thursday, August 4, 2016

Toni-Ann Williams - Jamaican Gymnast

Gymnastics is one of those sports I was never very interested to participate in as a child. It probably had something to do with my intense fear of falling. I didn't play on the monkey bars. I was always quite content to stay put on the ground, thank you very much. But that didn't stop me from watching and admiring the amazing gymnasts of my era. When I was growing up, the best of the best were all from Soviet Bloc countries, which made it all the more special with American Mary Lou Retton won her gold in 1984. But even the coldest of Cold Wars could stop us from admitting the sheer power and beauty of Nadia Com─âneci's "perfect 10" in 1976.

But you know, as much as I admired the gymnasts of my youth, I'm even more impressed with the young athletes of today. They keep pushing the boundaries, reaching out to bring more people of different backgrounds and different abilities into the sport.

One young woman to watch is Toni-Ann Williams, who will be competing for Jamaica -- the first ever female gymnast to represent that country in international gymnastics events, and now at the Olympics. Toni-Ann, who attends the University of California at Berkeley, is also the first gymnastics student-athlete to win a spot at an Olympic even in the school's history.

Toni-Ann's parents are from Jamaica, and she holds dual citizenship. When she was deciding which of the two countries to represent in 2010, she thought it would be an easy answer -- Team USA all the way. But then she visited Jamaica with her parents and fell in love with the country and the people, and her mind was made up.
"[B]eing in gymnastics they trained us for the US team, so all my life I have been thinking US, US. But my parents took me down to Jamaica and I saw some of the gyms here, and I realised that there is an opportunity in Jamaica and I can make a difference and bring gymnastics to a country that didn't have much of it."
(source: Jamaica Observer)
She was on track to participate in the 2012 Olympics in London, but a deep hand rip at the 2011 World Championships kept her off the bars and she had to sit out of the trials. At the time, she was the State Champion, and while she didn't make it to London, she continued to work hard, and to win awards and accolades. When she's not competing on an international stage, she's like most other college students today -- studying, hanging out with friends, and working hard to represent her team in the PAC 10 conference, proudly wearing her Golden Bears uniform.
Williams started her journey in a tiny, out-of-the-way gym hidden among the hills on the outskirts of Cal's campus, where she enthusiastically drags a humongous mat to the balance beam area before getting to work. She also carried her own vault springboard to run through several repetitions, as she worked on enhancing her high-flying flip and acrobatic twist.

"I never realised how big that was. I never allowed myself to think that highly of myself before, but I do recognise it now. It helps me stay humble and keeps me going through this crazy journey," Williams said last year, after discovering that she was the first gymnast to compete for Jamaica.
(source: Jamaica Observer)

When asked how she approaches each event, she shared her personal inspirational routine -- looking for her mom in the stands, and reminding herself "I'm not afraid." Great advice Toni-Ann! Don't be afraid. Just go out there and trust your training.

"Not going to dull my sparkle today." Indeed! Go get 'em Toni-Ann!

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