Zachary Clay.

Zachary Clay.

Zachary Clay: Eyes on the Olympics

Chilliwack's Zachary Clay, 16, as featured in The Chilliwack Progress Forty Under 40.

Zachary Clay is the youngest in our Forty Under 40 section, but his long stack of achievements make him an easy selection as one of Chilliwack’s young guns.

Training and competing under the banner of Abbotsford’s Twisters Gymnastics, the 16-year-old has developed into an elite athlete.

In late February, he traveled to Mississauga, Ontario and dusted national competition to become the Elite Canada junior all-around champion. In mid-March he represented Canada at the 2012 Pacific Rim Championships in Everett, placing ninth all-round.

He won his first national event at 13 years old, taking the tyro title in Kamloops, and each significant win has come against older competition.

Seven months ago, Clay was short-listed for a potential spot on Canada’s 2016 Olympic team.

If Canada qualifies, the Chilliwack kid may one day be hopping on an airplane bound for Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

“I’m surprised at where I’ve gotten to,” Clay admitted. “Being short-listed for the Olympics, it’s a good feeling and something I wasn’t expecting. I was shocked. Just blown away.”

Clay logs 20 hours a week at Twisters, honing his techniques. But without his natural gifts, hard work would only get him so far.

His father Joe knew very early that his son had the stuff to be special.

“He was three years old and he would eat a sandwich standing on his head, and we thought that was a little odd,” Joe laughed.

When he was in pre-school, his teacher marveled at his ability to do perfect cart-wheels. She recommended enrolling Clay in gymnastics, so his parents took him to Flip City in Langley.

At first, Flip City didn’t want to take the four-and-a-half year old. ‘Boys that age are too hyper and un-focused,’ they said.

“One day they called us into the office and we’re thinking, ‘This is it. They’re kicking him out,’” Joe said. “Instead, they say to us, ‘Do you mind if we move him up a level and put him into pre-competitive?’”

And off he went.

“I do it because I like it, and I’ve always liked it,” he said. “It’s hard work and some days are tougher than others. After a two-day competition, my hands are sore and my shoulders, legs and back are just destroyed. But I’ve been to so many places and met so many people through gymnastics. I wouldn’t want to do anything else.”