“Leaving my first World Championships as a three-time World medallist is just amazing,” stated USA gymnast Shilese Jones; before adding, “this is just the beginning.”
Many in the sport have been aware of her talent for several years, but her performances in Liverpool last year have been heralded as a true “breakthrough moment” for the gymnast.
For reference, Shilese claimed individual silver medals on the Uneven Bars and prestigious All-Around event, as well as gold with the USA Team at the 2022 Worlds in England.
Her successes were all the more impressive given what the gymnast has endured in recent times.
18 months ago, after placing tenth at the Olympic trials and missing out on a place at the Tokyo 2020 Games, she stated – in a subsequently deleted social media post – that her heart had been “torn apart.”
Within the emotional post, which directed criticism at some working within USA Gymnastics at the time, Shilese said “I’ve given up everything to be where I’m at today.”
She also revealed for the first time that she had been involved in a car accident and gave an unfiltered account of what she had experienced leading into the competition.
“Hearing doctors tell you that your back and foot will never heal the same. Moving my family and disabled dad across the states. Not all things go as they should have.
“To be so close to your dream and yet falling short AGAIN off of someone’s decision hurts."
She came close to walking away from the sport for good.
Conversations with those closest to her, including father Sylvester, encouraged her to return.
Five months later he passed away after a long battle with a kidney disease.
In a GoFundMe campaign, launched to help pay for funeral and travel expenses, Jones described how it was his “dream to see me on the Olympic stage one day and he devoted anything and everything to my gymnastics.
“Beat tired after a long day of dialysis to drive and pick me up from practices. There was nothing he wouldn’t do to support my gymnastics.”
A tattoo on her left shoulder now reads ‘Dad your name echoes in my heartbeat.”
It is therefore perhaps unsurprising that when asked what is the most important to her in life, she admits her mindset has changed.
“As far as a year ago, if you would ask me that question, I would have definitely said gymnastics came first,” she tells the WSA.
“But definitely family for me now and then gymnastics.”
Images from Shilese Jones on Insta.
They set her on this path; 14 years ago the youngster began her journey.
After “flipping around the house” a little too often her parents decided gymnastics classes would be the best way to nurture that natural flare.
Asked whether she knew as a child or in her early teen years whether a career at the elite end of the sport was possible, Shilese is brutally honest.
“Ha, I don't think I ever knew,” she tells the WSA. “Honestly, at first it was just a thing to do and something that was fun.
“I would say I really only started taking it serious when I first made the (USA) national team.”
Now, following her successes at the 2022 World Championships, she is now marked out as a key ‘one to watch’ come the next Olympics, which are just 18 months away.
“Honestly, all over the place and like I literally have no words,” she admits when asked about her emotions and the significance of those medal-winning successes.
“I've been trying so hard for this and (it) has been my biggest goal for so long now. It’s literally, just amazing!”
With the legendary Olympic champion Simone Biles stepping away from the elite side of the gymnastics, the sport is seeking new stars, but Shilese is calm when asked about any comparisons, or pressure she may feel.
“The goal is the ‘24 Olympics, so hopefully you’ll see me there,” she says.
“I’m going to keep training hard and do my best every day.”