As American gymnast Shilese Jones sets off for her first competition in more than a year – the four-country Friendship and Solidarity event in Tokyo, scheduled for 8 November – she’ll do it with the support of her family back home.
The family moved from Seattle, Washington, to Columbus, Ohio, following the 2014 season, so she could work with coach Christian Gallardo, who at the time was working with 2012 Olympic all-around champion Gabby Douglas.
The weight of the move is not lost on 18-year-old Jones.
“We're all from Seattle, Washington, and so I moved over here six years ago to train. I wanted my coach to be Christian Gallardo,” Jones told Olympic Channel. “I think about that, like daily, like I moved my whole family from state to state.”
Her gymnastics has become a family affair. Her father has what she described as “tremendous health problems,” including having undergone kidney and pancreas transplants.
“We’re all pushing together. We’re all in this together,” said Jones. “You take it day-by-day.”
Every day, Jones and her mom, Latrice Bryant, find time to workout together. Jones shared a moment recently on her Instagram where her mom, at the urging of their shared trainer, attempted pull-ups for the first time in years.
“I was like, ‘Mom, you should try one!’” recalled Jones. “She said her goal was three in middle school. She said, ‘I haven't made one since then.’”
But with Jones’ back to her mom – at Bryant’s request – she did her first pull-ups in years.
“I was just beyond proud of her,” said Jones.
That can-do attitude is evident in Jones, who hasn’t competed since the 2019 U.S. Championships where she finished 12th in the all-around. She was invited to the subsequent U.S. World Championships team selection event but withdrew due to injury.
She was slated to return to competition earlier this year, but then the coronavirus pandemic hit. Jones says she didn’t know if she’d get a chance to compete at all in 2020 after spending 10 long weeks away from the gym.
“I was like, ‘Oh, my God, this is crazy,’” Jones said. “Like, it went from me qualifying [to compete for Team USA] in January to not having an Olympics. No other meets... nothing.”
Suddenly, she was forced to work out at home. Gallardo sent daily plans and Jones grabbed some small equipment from her gym, allowing her to work on uneven bar drills and pirouettes. She’d even recently gotten an air track so was able to work on her beam series. For cardio, Jones says she ran around her neighborhood.
Then, as Jones worked her way back into form – a process she says took about a month – her coach asked her if she had interest in competing at an event in Japan. At the time, they did not have many details but Jones jumped at the opportunity.
Weeks later, Jones got final sign off from Tom Forster, the women’s high performance team coordinator. The competition format features two, mixed-nation teams and Jones says planning to ease back into things, most likely performing on the balance beam and vault only.
Still, in a year of ups and downs, of so many plans made and re-made, Jones is happy for the opportunity.
“So, here I am today… it's the first meet back from everything and it's my first competition back in just about a year now,” said Jones. “I'm just super excited.”