Writer Fadi Sitto
Photography by Bryan Black
These are the first words that came to mind after meeting Jace Williams, a somewhat reserved Cave Creek 14-year-old who attends Cactus Shadows High School.
Jace is not your typical Arizona teenager; he’s part of the USA Trampoline and Tumbling Gymnastics Team and is headed for St. Petersburgh, Russia this November to compete in the prestigious World Age Group Competition (WAGC) in trampoline.
WAGC is the highest level of competitive event in his age group and a prelude to the World Championships. Jace is one of four Americans to get invited, and is the top qualifier for the American team. His main event is trampoline, but he also competes in double-mini.
Trampoline and tumbling is an Olympic sport in which world-class athletes perform routines involving bold jumps, saults, twists and airborne acrobatics.
An Arizona native, Jace was introduced to the sport at age 3, and got really into it at the seasoned age of 4. He started with artistic gymnastics, but quickly made the switch to something he really wanted to do—and that was to jump.
“I remember Jace would be at North Valley Gymnastics practicing regular gymnastics and every free minute that he had he would be on the trampoline,” Susan Williams, Jace’s mom explained.
His mom could see that he was having more fun on trampoline, “I could see the difference, he was happy,” she says. So trampoline it is; he never looked back.
Today, Jace practices four hours per day, five days a week. His daily routine starts by waking up at 6 a.m. and going to school. Then, he takes the bus back home to change to his attire before grabbing a quick, healthy snack and off to the gym. After training, he heads home to get in some homework and finally to bed. He wakes up the next morning and does it again.
Sure, in some ways he’s your normal high school kid, and when he’s not jumping like a madman he enjoys snowboarding, dirt biking and pretty much anything outdoors. He even got his scuba diving certification. Adventure is not Jace’s official middle name, but it should be.
Still, he plays video games and hangs out with friends, and Jace still feels like he gets to be an American teenager. He’s grateful for any spare time he gets with his friends here in his neighborhood, as well as friends he’s made from all over the country because of his sport.
However, don’t let that shy teen smile fool you; he’s always looking for that next big jump. For Jace, being content is like accepting second place—and that’s not going to fly for him. A young man with high aspirations, Jace jumps to the beat of a different drummer.
An athlete, he is devoted to his craft. The discipline Jace shows to his team, his coaches, and ultimately to himself on a daily basis is second to none.
There is no doubt that his rise in the ranks in competitive trampoline is, in part, due to his mental make-up and fortitude. This commitment includes 30-day nutrition challenges, intense specific exercises and personal workouts geared to focus his mind and body on his goals.
Every great athlete needs to have the guidance of an equally impressive coach or mentor. Jace has one, and her name is Chelsea Rainer.
Chelsea has been coaching for over 15 years, and has coached Jace and other aspiring gymnasts at the renowned North Valley Gymnastics facility for over eight years. She established the first ever trampoline team in Arizona in the early 2000s and became the state chair for Arizona.
She is the U.S. National Team coach for double-mini trampoline and head coach for the World Championships. Chelsea also currently oversees the region including California, Arizona, Hawaii and Nevada for U.S. Gymnastics, as well as the U.S. Junior Olympic program.
With an internal calling for athletic teaching and an ever-so “tough love” persuasive way of telling people what to do, she has found herself at the forefront of her sport.
“She’s a really great coach, and I don’t think I would have gotten to where I am without her,” says Jace about his longtime coach.
Coach Rainer is one of those coaches you go to battle for because you know she has your back. It’s that kind of support that Jace has received throughout the years that helps him achieve greatness. She’s the kind of coach that would succeed in any coaching genre.
Give Jace the tools, and he will reach his maximum potential. Even with his natural talent, regimented conditioning, training and overall will to achieve greatness, he wouldn’t have the level of success without the support of the people around him, especially his family.
Jace isn’t just competitive when it comes to trampoline; he wants to win.
“Yeah it’s like a running joke, if we want to make him do a new skill in trampoline we just make it a contest and he’ll do it,” Coach Rainer light-heartedly says.
A fun fact about Jace is that he’s actually really good at magic tricks. If he put in the same effort he puts in to trampoline, he would probably have weekend shows booked in Vegas. So if you accidentally run into him at the airport waiting to board a plane to head to his next competition, just ask him if he has a deck of cards in his back pack. You might be pleasantly surprised.
This remarkable high school freshman doesn’t just get straight A’s as an accomplished athlete; he’s also a winner in the classroom. Though still a few years down the road, he plans to study engineering.
There’s something to be said about a person who’s not afraid to fail. When you combine Jace Williams’ competitive passion for trampoline with his analytical self-awareness and overall smarts, you have the makings of a champion.
Jace’s advice to young gymnasts is to stick with it, even if you’re not doing great, just stick with it again. Who says you can’t learn from a teenager?