ATHLETE INTERVIEW: Jessica Staples
Winning medals is hard. Winning medals while battling a disease is even harder. But Jessica Staples, an award-winning 14-year-old gymnast, doesn’t let anything get in the way of pursuing her dreams. Read on to find out more about this amazing athlete and the challenges she’s overcome!
When Jessica was just 10 years old, she was diagnosed with primary immune deficiency (PID), which is an immune disease that makes her especially vulnerable to infections. Jessica has fought her way to the top—living away from home for two years while training and placing first in the balance beam competition at the U.S. National Championships last year.
Girls’ Life: Congratulations on placing first in the balance beam competition at the junior national championships last year. How did it feel to win?
Jessica Staples: It felt really good. My goal was to win all around and I really wanted to win beam. I finished 7th all around, so I achieved one of my goals by winning beam.
GL: How did you feel when you found out you have primary immune deficiency (PID)? How has it made you a stronger person?
JS: At first [I was] scared, because I did not know what it was and I did not know what to expect. As I learned more and began my treatments, I realized it could be worse and there are people out there who are less fortunate than me. It’s made me more mature. I always feel strong mentally because of gymnastics and this is just another test of my physical and mental toughness. But I still don’t like needles.
GL: How do you find time and strength to balance gymnastics and schoolwork?
JS: I do homework in the car, to and from the gym. I sometimes have to miss out on things after school.
GL: What is the most common misunderstanding about PID? What do you wish people knew about PID?
JS: The words “immune deficiency” make people think the worst and that it’s related to HIV or AIDS. I wish people knew that it’s not a big deal. Some people have to wear glasses or have other health problems, like asthma, that they live with and PID is no different.
GL: Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
JS: Competing for a Division-I level school.
GL: What is your favorite part about being a gymnast?
JS: Learning new skills between seasons and competing.
GL: What is the hardest thing about being away from home while you’re training?
JS: While I was gone for two years, [the hardest part] was missing my family. I have two older sisters, a younger sister and a younger brother.
GL: What is the hardest part about being a gymnast and living with PID?
JS: I’ve learned to adjust and I just need to eat right and get good sleep maybe more so than others.
GL: What’s a typical workout routine like for you?
JS: When I lived in Ohio [it was] 7-10:30 a.m. practice, 11-1:30 school, 2-6 practice on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. On Wednesday, we only had practice in the mornings and on Saturday from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. It was almost 40 hours a week of practice. A typical practice would start with physical abilities and stretching, events, conditioning and flexibility.
GL: What are some of your favorite hobbies?
JS: Talking with friends on the computer.
GL: What do you like to do with your friends on the weekend?
JS: [I like to] hang out at my house with friends or at a friend’s house or go to a football or basketball game.
GL: How do you spend your free time?
JS: Catch up on my rest.
GL: Fave healthy snack?
JS: Strawberries and yogurt.
GL: Would you like to compete in the Olympics someday?
JS: I used to think and dream about it when I was younger. Maybe that’s what helped me get as far as I have. But now I’m older and while it would be great to compete in the Olympics, right now I want to make the Junior Olympics National Team at level 10 and go on to compete at the D-I level.
GL: What do you hope other girls can learn from you?
JS: When I had the chance to go to Ohio away from my family, I was scared. But I knew that if I did not go, I always would have wondered what would have happened if I did go. I knew that I did not want to always wonder what might have happened. I’m not sure other girls can learn anything from me or not, but they should know one thing—even at a young age, things can change at any time and life can change. So don’t be afraid to follow your dreams, whatever they are.