Staring down the padded runway—eyes focused, muscles tightened, feet firmly planted—she takes a deep breath, then bursts into a full sprint.
Just a few moments later, after just a split second with her hands grazing the vault, she gracefully guides her body through a series of twists and turns, 10 feet in the air, and finally comes to a landing, feet firmly planted once again. Then, a smile crosses over her face, her arms in the standard V-formation above her head.
For most, this act of sheer athleticism and stunning power is impressive. For Nia Dyer, it’s just another day at practice.
She may be another 8th-grader at Claughton Middle School during the day, but she spends nearly every afternoon training at a local gym, steadily preparing her mind and her body for competition.
A level 8 gymnast, her best (and favorite) event is vault.
“I love the vault. But I used to be terrible at it,” Nia said. “And then one day I got a private lesson. And ever since then, I’ve been much better.”
Much better is an understatement.
Among other female gymnasts at her level, she is consistently ranked within the top 100 vaulters in the United States, routinely getting some of the highest scores on that event at competitions. She even placed as the top vaulter at regional competition last year, over more than 500 athletes from seven states.
At her last event in Dallas, she placed in the top 10 in all four events. Her vault score of 9.725 currently ranks her at number 30 in the United States.
The road to now started when Nia was just 3 years old.
“When I was little, I used to dance around the house,” she said. “My mom knew that she had to put me in gymnastics, that she had to put me in something.”
Ten years later, she is training five to six days a week at AIM Athletics in Spring. She comes from an athletic family, so sports has always been a big part of the Dyer household. In fact, her mother, Kesha Dyer, is a coach at Claughton Middle School.
Despite that history, Kesha Dyer never thought competitive gymnastics was in the cards for Nia.
“When she was younger, she would mimic what she saw other people do. When she saw someone do a cartwheel, she would do a cartwheel. Any kind of flips or jumps, she would try it. But competitive gymnastics was not the goal,” Kesha Dyer said. “We just wanted her somewhere safe, where she could do these things in a protected environment. But she moved really fast, and it hasn’t stopped since.”
For Nia, despite the accolades, the scores are not the most important part. It’s the relationships at her gym.
“I love getting new skills, and making new friends, both my teammates and the coaches,” Nia said. “If there’s a day where I don’t want to go in, I tell myself that I’m doing this for my coaches or that I’m doing it for my friends.”
She sees those relationships and friendships as the best and most important part of the experience, and the medals and trophies as nice reminders of her hard work. It is an attitude well beyond her 13 years.
“I just do my best, and see where it takes me. If I mess up, I just tell myself that I will do better next time. Like, I fell this weekend. But I just smiled, got back up, and kept going,” Nia said.
It’s an outlook her mother admires.
“Sometimes I have to just sit back and let her take the lead,” Kesha Dyer said. “She knows what’s best for her.”
And what is best for her, according to Nia, is letting her gymnastics career unfold naturally. She is happy to just live in the moment for now.
“I’m taking it one step at a time,” Nia said. “My goals are to just make it to the next level, to do really good, and not just go through the motions. I want to enjoy it and have fun, every time and at every meet.”