Local graduate among nation’s frontrunner gymnasts

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Jordan Chiles’ bubbly and determined spirit radiated throughout the gymnasium as she walked up to the vault. She faced one of the biggest stages in her career so far, the U.S. Gymnastics Championships.

Chiles, a Prairie High School graduate, didn’t discover gymnastics until she was 6-years-old when her parents enrolled her at the Naydenov Gymnastics Fun Center in Vancouver.

The sport started as a way to channel Chiles’ high energy. She tried other sports like T-ball, track and dance, but would spend her time on the baseball field picking daisies and practicing cartwheels.

“At first I didn’t think I was very talented. I thought it was all fun until I got older,” Chiles said. “Then I was like, ‘Oh, I’m stuck in this sport for a long time.’”

At the national championship earlier this month, Chiles took third place behind Simone Biles in first and she trailed Sunisa Lee by half a point. In May, Chiles was the first runner-up at the U.S. Classic in Indianapolis.

Chiles remembers watching her first Olympics in 2008. As the best athletes in the world competed for medals and broke records, she knew she wanted to be like them.

“It has been a crazy and amazing journey,” Chiles’ mother Gina wrote in an email. “We didn’t know what we were getting into when we took her to her first class 13 years ago, but here we are.”

Chiles quickly distinguished  herself from other gymnasts her age in both Clark County and Washington state. She described the culture as “toxic.”

“All of the attention was on me,” Chiles said. “A lot of people didn’t like that so I had to remove myself from what was going on. I wasn’t getting what I felt I needed from everybody, support wise.”

Chiles found success at the national championships in 2017 with the second-place title, then ranked 11th the following year.

She knew a change in coaching and different scenery would serve her well, she said. So, in 2019 after becoming friends with Olympic gold medalist Biles, Chiles joined her for training at the World Champions Centre in Houston, Texas.

Chiles is shooting for a spot at the Tokyo Olympics, although she prefers to focus on the next competition rather than ones far off into the distance.

Commitment to the sport is essential for success. Chiles practices every day, 34 hours a week, twice from Sunday through Thursday and once on Fridays and Saturdays.

“I have been practicing and sleeping. That’s all I do,” she said.

When the pandemic disrupted championships and the Olympics, Chiles continued to train but she had more time to express her other talents. She created a clothing line called Melanin Drip Clothing Co.

She designs each piece based on what she feels the world needs to see, Chiles said.

The website features photos of men and women of color wearing sweatshirts with phrases like “melanin” and “boujee” written across the front.

Chiles admitted she hasn’t spent as much time lately working on products since she started ramping up training for a potential Olympics spot.

Chiles and her teammates trained together via Zoom during the eight-week lockdown. She found it hard to miss out on the encouraging words she would usually hear from the other gymnasts.

“It was different,” she said. “Would I ever do that again? No.”

Her mother, Gina, wanted to pay tribute to Chiles’ persistent passion for gymnastics. Ever since Gina was a child, she had dreamed of writing a children’s book.

On a random day in 2018, Gina decided to create a book about Chiles in hopes of inspiring her grandchildren and others.

“Dream Big Little Chick” follows a family of chicks through a 30-page story. Chick is the daughter, who proudly wears “afro puffs” like Chiles. Chick dreams of competing in the animal Olympics, and Momma Chick encourages her to keep trying even after facing criticism from those around her, Gina said.

“I wanted them to know that no matter how crazy or big their dreams seem, they can achieve anything they work hard for,” she said.

Illustrations were created by Gina’s daughter-in-law Megan Chiles.

Olympic trials to determine the athletes representing Team USA in the Tokyo Olympics start for women at 8 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on June 25. The second day of trials begins at 8:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on June 27.

To automatically make the team, Chiles would need to place in the top two spots for the all-around combined score from both days. A selection committee will choose the rest of the team, which usually results in six women.

“I will always be a Washingtonian,” Chiles said. “I will always be a Prairie Falcon.”

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