In 2012 US Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas made history by becoming the first African American to win the individual all-around event. In June this year Jessie-Leigh Roberts-Riley attended the International Gymnastics Camp in Pennsylvania, and met Gabby. Now she has big dreams of her own.
“I want to be the first person who ever won an Olympic gold medal (in gymnastics) for Trinidad and Tobago.” About her meeting with the Olympic winner and the camp she said, “I liked her. I like her story. It was nice, it was fun. It was a good experience. But I think it was a little too easy.”
Kids Newsday met up with Jessie-Leigh during a training session last week with her club, Olympia Wolf Pack, at Mucurapo West Secondary. She said she has been involved in gymnastics since she was two years-old. “I saw somebody doing gymnastics on TV and that made me say I want to be gymnast.”
Asked what she likes about the sport, Jessie-Leigh said the flipping. She said training is hard sometimes but she looks on the bright side.
“Sometimes your coaches toughen you up. They make you feel down. And sometimes make you cry. But you get tougher and tougher.”
She said she is best at floor routine, vault, bars and beam, in that order. Asked if she has a special diet and has to skip snacks and soft drinks Jessie-Leigh responded, “Sometimes and sometimes not.”
She trains three times a week for up to three hours. She is home-schooled by her mother and this helps with balancing academics and sports.
At the camp Jessie-Leigh told Gabby she has watched her (Gabby’s) biopic a “thousand times.” Gabby jokingly responded by asking her what is the name of her dog, but Jessie-Leigh did not know.
Her mother Marsha Riley said Jessie-Leigh also watches a lot of Olympic YouTube videos for inspiration. She said her daughter comes from a “strong stock of athletes and athleticism”: Marsha coaches hockey and runs a a general sports camp for children three to seven year-old. Her father played nationally for Canada in multiple sports and her grandfather also played hockey.
She said her daughter is naturally gifted in track and field, which she has been doing for about a year, but she encouraged Jessie-Leigh to follow her passion. Her mother said gymnastics is a sport you have to “catch early” and training for Olympics must begin at a young age. “She works really hard at it.”
Jessie-Leigh will be joining a combined team of gymnastic clubs to compete under one flag in the Jamaican classics from November 3-5. She said it will be hard because she will be eight on November 3 and will have to wake up early. Her next major event is a club meet in Orlando in January.
Asked what advice she had for children interested in gymnastics Jessie-Leigh said “I think you should just follow your dreams. Yes it’s going to be hard. Every sport is hard. I think that’s my inspiration.”