Zach Clay - Gymnast - US Glove Brand Ambassador
After nearly two years since his last traditional competition, Canadian men’s artistic gymnast Zach Clay is eager to get back into the swing of things as he travels for the World Cup Series and World Championships.
Zach began gymnastics at the age of five. By his own admission, he was far from a standout during those early years. “When I was younger, I was never really considered a good gymnast,” admitted Zach. “Going into competitions, I was never on the podium or anything like that, but I was always working hard.” Zach’s breakthrough came in a surprising way: through injury.
Around 2010, as he hit a growth spurt, Zach repeatedly injured his back, leading him and his coach to decide he would hold off on competing for the year. In the meantime, he focused on the skills and worked towards the next season – when something remarkable happened. “The skills were coming easier, and the following year I actually won nationals,” said Zach. “That was a huge turning point and in my mind, I began thinking ‘okay, I can really go somewhere with this’ and I just held onto that feeling and pushed myself harder and harder every day.”
Even as a beginner, Zach’s talent on the pommel horse – his favorite event – stuck out to his coach Rich Ikeda as much as his work ethic. “Obviously his pommel stood out, but more to the point it was his training,” said Rich. “Even when he was younger, he would keep taking turns to the point where you would have to tell him no. There are athletes that are more talented, but the work ethic is the key.” Rich, one of the most decorated Canadian gymnasts ever and a competitor at the 1996 Olympic Games saw a big opening for Zach based on his skillset. If Zach could be strong on both the pommel and the rings, two events where Canada has historically been weaker, it would make him invaluable to the team.
For a gymnast of Zach’s caliber, pushing himself harder means training four hours a day, six days a week. But his impressive list of accomplishments proves it’s all worth it: four World Championships appearances, two Commonwealth Games, and several Pan American Games and Championships. At the most recent Pan Am games, Canada finished third. Additionally, the 2018 Commonwealth Games saw Zach finish third on pommel horse, while Canada finished second as a team.
As he progressed and entered bigger and bigger competitions, Zach had to learn how to handle his new surroundings. “When I first started going to those competitions, it was just kind of nerve-wracking and sometimes too much,” said Zach. “Now I’m able to go at it with more of a calm approach and the last few big meets I could relax and ease my nerves, so I could compete the way I should, the way I do in training, and not have the jitters. It’s one of those things where you just need a few under your belt to have the confidence you need.”
Zach’s experiences have shown him the easiest way to do that is to simply zone out all the other “noise” at competitions. “When you’re younger, you see all these great athletes and you focus on what they’re doing and not on what you’re doing. After a few of those, you realize you just need to forget about those people and worry about yourself,” he explained.
The oldest and most decorated athlete at his gym, Zach has emerged as a role model for the younger gymnasts, who range in age between 14 and 26. “Zach has to work hard, but because he does, he’s attained things that even people more talented than him have not. That comes down to work ethic and love for the sport,” said Rich of Zach.
Over the years, Zach also developed a close bond with Rich’s brother Ken, who he competed alongside for many years. “My goal was always to beat him on pommel horse (Ken’s best event as well), since we went to international competitions and competed together. I did actually achieve it, so I was really happy about that,” said Zach with a smile. “It’s not just a relationship through coaching, but through travel and competing with and against him. That’s why I look up to him.”
Now, Zach has come full circle: he’s the seasoned veteran of the bunch, owning his own impressive resume, with a new group of eager athletes chasing him. And Zach is just fine filling Ken’s shoes. “I can see some athletes in our gym that can compete against me one day and I won’t make it easy on them, but I look forward to that happening. Looking back on it, I loved competing against Ken and having that relationship, so I look forward to having a similar one with some of the guys in our gym,” he said.
The youngest of three brothers, Zach may be the only athlete in his immediate family, but tracing that work ethic is less of a challenge. My grandpa was probably the most athletic, he used to do a lot of boxing, he’s a real hard worker,” said Zach. “His last job was in roofing and he retired at 79 years old – even then, he was in amazing shape.” Zach’s father, who served in the U.S. Navy, is another source of hard work.
A resident of British Columbia, Zach tries to get outside as much as possible when he has the time. Hiking and going out on the lake are two favorite activities. When the time comes to hang up his grips for good, Zach knows he won’t go too far from gymnastics. “I’ve thought about coaching myself,” said Zach. I’ve been at the gym for so long, it’s almost like a second home. Even if it’s just stopping by and saying ‘hi’ to see how everything is going, I’d want to be involved. I just love the sport so much.”
Zach relies on US Glove Grips and Wristbands. The US Glove Team has been fortunate to witness and support Zach’s growth as a gymnast and mentor. We wish him the very best as he makes his long-awaited return to the national stage. Unleash your superpower with US Glove!