Claughton Middle School gymnast Nia Dyer is a force to be reckoned with.

The 13-year-old garnered national attention by ranking within the top 100 vaulters in the United States. In Dallas, she placed in the top 10 in all four of her events, with a vault score of 9.725, ranking her at No. 30 in the nation.

When she isn’t dabbling in art and photography or hanging out with her friends, she is hitting the ground running practicing her twists and turns 10 feet in the air, and mastering her landings. Athletics comes naturally to Dyer’s family. She has a big support system, including her mother Kesha Dyer, a volleyball coach at Claughton.  

Dyer’s journey began at the age of 3 and she doesn’t plan on slowing down yet. The Defender spoke to Nia and Kesha Dyer about how she balances achievement on and off the floor.

Defender: What interested you in gymnastics?

Nia Dyer: When I was younger, I used to copy people doing tricks. When I saw someone doing cartwheels, I would do the same thing. My mom figured this would be a good activity for me to do, and I’ve been doing it ever since.

Defender: You come from an athletic family. How has your family’s support helped you become a better athlete?

Nia: Sometimes I’ll have challenges or struggles and they will help me. For example, if I keep falling and I don’t know how to fix it and I’m getting frustrated. I’ll talk to them and ask my coaches for more help so I can get better at it. My mom teaches at the school and she is amazing and helpful. If I ever need anything she’ll always have my back.

Nia Dyer practicing her splits

Defender: What has gymnastics taught you about yourself?

Nia: I’ve learned to take challenges head-on but not put too much pressure on myself and have fun. Be present and focus on the moment.

Defender: How do you balance academics and gymnastics training five to six days a week?

Nia: It has been a struggle, but I’ve learned to get better at it. During volleyball, at the beginning of the school year, I’ve noticed that it’s easier to keep everything in order. I know I have to get my school work done first before sports. Learning how to manage my time has been better when I organize my priorities.

Kesha Dyer: She follows the rules. She works hard. There’s a lot of pressure on kids [who are] in the same school with their parents, but it’s normal for her. She understands that education comes first. I teach her the importance of rest. Burnout is a real thing, especially with a jam-packed schedule. She played on the volleyball team this year and practiced at six in the morning, went to school, and then gymnastics practice right after for four hours every day during the week. It’s hard but it’s showing good results.

Defender: Who is your favorite athlete or gymnast and why? 

Nia: I really like Trinity Thomas. She is a college student at the University of Florida. She is an amazing gymnast. She has helped her team a lot in the competitions they’ve had recently. She gave them a lot of points to win.

You’ve received national attention for your skills but you have no interest in the Olympics. Why? 

Nia: If I wanted to go to college and I was asked to go compete at the college level I would do it. When I watched the [most recent] Olympics it was a lot. It was just a lot of people not wanting to do the Olympics anymore. Too much pressure. In college gymnastics, you can see the athletes having fun without all the additional pressure. That’s what I prefer.

Why aren’t there more Black people interested in gymnastics?

Kesha: Fortunately, Black folk are dominating the sport, but sometimes this sport is out of access for kids, because of the costs, or lack of understanding of how the sport works, or the investment of time and development of the child’s skills. 

Nia: I remember when I was younger, there was an issue with my hair. I couldn’t wear my natural hair out because they said the judges would deduct points. It made me feel sad, like I didn’t want to wear it. But now times have changed. They love it and accept it.

Laura Onyeneho

I cover Houston's education system as it relates to the Black community for the Defender as a Report for America corps member. I'm a multimedia journalist and have reported on social, cultural, lifestyle,...