Spotlight on Thema Williams (TTO)

4:42 PM Arabian Punch Front 1 Comments

Thema Williams is an international elite gymnast from the twin island nation of Trinidad and Tobago. She made history by becoming the first female gymnast to represent her country at a World Championships when she attended the meet in Tokyo in 2011. Along the way, she was also the first person from Trinidad and Tobago to compete a Tkatchev on the uneven bars internationally. Her journey was most recently hindered by an elbow injury in 2013. She has since recovered and is now back on track for 2014. Williams will not compete at the Commonwealth Games since she did not attend the qualifier competition due to exams. She is currently training for 2 months at Geddert's Twistars in Michigan, USA and had some time to speak with Arabian Punch Front.

How did you first get started in gymnastics?
I first started gymnastics when I was six years old. The reason I started was because my sister used to do it and I would run around the house trying all the tricks. She would come home and try and teach me and we always make this joke that she was my first coach. One day, my mom get scared that I would hurt myself so one day she sent me to the gym and I just took off from there.

When did you first realize you were doing well in gymnastics?
I probably realized when I was a Level 7 around 8 years old. That was only a few years into my gymnastics and I realized at that point that I was special.

What is gymnastics like in Trinidad and Tobago?
I think competing in Trinidad and Tobago was challenging at the compulsory level. As I got older, to Level 10 and elite, there wasn't anybody [else] in Trinidad and Tobago at that level so it became very difficult and I felt as if I was limited. That was the reason why I felt I had to continue my gymnastics career abroad. They always say, "To become the best, you have to be amongst the best."

You were the first one to compete a Tkatchev for Trinidad and Tobago. Could you tell us what training and finally competing it was like?
The first time I actually got the skill was at the Karolyi's camp when I was nine years old. I was there for the their annual camp, in which they accommodate international athletes. And it felt great, after so many years of having the ability to do the skill, just being able to perfect it and finally compete it.

Could you tell us what Worlds was like in 2011 for you?
Worlds in 2011 was definitely an eye-opener for me. It was being around people that sacrificed time and so much for sport, solely for gymnastics. There was all this talent from all over the world coming together. It was also made me realize that I needed to work harder. I was not satisfied with my performance because I believe that I could have done a lot better.

Can you take us through 2012 and 2013?
2012 and 2013 were the slowest years for me. I don't think I went to many meets in those years. I didn't go to many international meets and so on. I tried to get really back on top of the game and get back out there again.

Could you tell us about the injury in 2013?
Right after I visited Michigan actually. I was at the Pan American [Senior Championships] in Puerto Rico and I was going for vault and dislocated my elbow. Somehow I managed to make it through and I healed well. And I'm very thankful. Now, I'm doing fine. There are minor things but nothing that stops me from doing what I have to do.

How did the relationship with Twistars develop?
I went to Twistars last year in August in preparation for the Pan American Qualifier. The thing I noticed that was different from other gyms was how quickly I saw improvement in myself. In my beam routines, I became a lot stronger and a lot more confident. From that point, I realized this was the gym I needed to go to. After a week and a half, I noted all these improvement in myself. I gave myself 24 hrs to think about the whole thing and I still wanted to do it. I told my mom, "I need to go to this gym to train. This is what I want." I'm willing to sacrifice 2 years of school to train for the Olympics at this gym. I need to be at this gym. And then it happened from there.

This time I'm here for 2 months and then I go back. In my group, I train with the Level 10 and elite girls. I stay with a host family whose daughter used to do gymnastics.

What is it like training with John Geddert, coach of Olympic and World Champion Jordyn Wieber? Who do you train with and between this year and last, did you ever get to see Jordyn train?
Training with John is great. He's so precise with everything, and I could tell he's obsessed with perfection. I enjoy that about him because I know he's spotting every little error which helps me to improve. Also, he's funny and overall a joy to work with. I did have the pleasure of seeing Jordyn train last year. She's phenomenal, and she goes hard. It wasn't difficult to recognize why she was world champion.

What new skills are you working on?
Right now, I'm just working on my vault - Yurchenko 1.5 and attempting doubles. Mostly, what I'm focusing on is perfecting my routines for the Pan American qualifier. On beam, I'll probably [add] layout layout eventually, switch ring...

Who were your role models growing up?
One of my role models was Nastia Liukin because she demonstrated such exquisite lines. She had the strength and the flexibility and that's something you don't get a lot.

What are your goals for 2014?
My goals for this year are definitely to qualify for Pan American Games. I just want to get a medal on some event or overall, to bring something home to my country.

Marisa Dick who trains in Canada and Khazia Hislop who trains at Brestyan's have recently joined the Trinidad and Tobago national team. How do you feel about having gymnasts change nationalities to compete for Trinidad and Tobago?
In a way it's invaluable. You know that these gymnasts, sometimes, compete for Trinidad and Tobago because they couldn't make their own team, they couldn't make the American team or they couldn't make the Canadian team. This is a touchy topic. I'm so grateful for them actually wanting to represent Trinidad and Tobago. It might not be their first choice but just being able to have a team I think is something. It's not a very well known sport so hopefully as a team, we can build, work together and do well to push gymnastics in Trinidad and Tobago.

Anything else you would like to share.
Keep working hard at whatever sport you do, whatever discipline you're in, just keep working hard. Even when it gets tough, you just have to fight it and keep pushing. No matter what, don't stop trying.

Thank you, Thema, for the interview and best of luck in the future!

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