© Mike Driscoll

By Nick McCarvel

Austin Nacey had just hit the double mini pass of his life at the World T&T Championships last month in Sofia. All he could do was crack a wry smile.

“Before that final pass, I knew it could be the last one I ever did,” Nacey told USA Gymnastics in a phone interview. “I basically said to myself, ‘Let’s kill it.’ I was just in serious mode, I guess.”

What Nacey had done was seriously incredible: The 23-year-old American – who had planned on 2017 being his final competitive season – earned an individual silver medal at Worlds in double mini-trampoline for the first time in his career, giving him his sixth World Championships medal.

“As soon as I stuck it, I just stood there for a while,” he said. “I knew it was going to be a huge score.”

Nacey came into the year with huge doubts, however: His motivation was lagging, and he found himself wanting to be in school more, planning on working towards a degree in radiology. But if 2017 were to be his final year in competition, his coach at TwistStars T&T outside of Chicago, Shawn Moore, wanted him to give his all.

“I’m super proud of him because as hard as it was for him this year, he still went out and knew what he needed to do,” Moore told USA Gymnastics. “It took some pushing this year because there was some lack of motivation, and he wanted to stop. He had an uphill battle but he fought through it and persevered. It was worth all of the pushing and struggles.”

Aside from the mental struggles, there were physical ones, too. After winning the tumbling title at the USA Gymnastics Championships this summer and placing second in double-mini, Nacey won the men’s tumbling silver at the World Games in Poland in late July before injuring both ankles in practice late in the summer.

He wouldn’t return to training until late October, just a week before national team camp, which served as the final selection stop for Team USA ahead of Worlds.

Nacey was put on the team in good faith, however, and saw the World Championships as his last chance to shine, having competed at the senior international level for some five years.

His silver medal in tumbling at the World Games helped stir something in him.

“I’ve never had an individual tumbling medal… I didn’t know if it was going to happen,” he admitted. “Getting that helped me settle my nerves (at World Games) and the World Championships was the cherry on top. I wanted to go out there and have fun and I did.”

“Fun” could be used to describe a lot of the U.S. approach at Worlds: The group bonded quickly and kept things light-hearted. Rachel Thevenot, a tumbler, choreographed a dance to Lao Ra’s “Bala,” which the team would do during warm-up at Worlds. It kept things light, Nacey said, and the team – including himself – relaxed.

“If we were taking ourselves too seriously, it helped keep the mood light,” he said. “We had a lot of newbies on the team. It really broke the ice.”

After Nacey performed a full-Rudi straight to a half-in tucked Triffus in his first pass, he hadn’t planned on upping the difficulty in his second, but toyed with the idea to coach Moore in the days leading up.

“The funny thing is that he had (mentioned the pass) earlier in the week, and it’s one he doesn’t practice often,” Moore explained. “Austin said, ‘If it feels good, I’m going to do it.’ I wasn’t sure if he was going to and he had planned a different pass – he was supposed to do a triple pike – and as he was up in the air I thought, ‘Oh shoot, that’s not right.’ But, when he finished it, there was this sigh of relief. He had done it.”

Moore was ecstatic. He chucked aside the safety mat he had been holding and ran to embrace a stoic Nacey, that grin barely spread across his athlete’s face. He had just hit a Triffus tuck to a quadruple back tuck, equaling the most difficult pass in double-mini Worlds history.

“I guess adrenaline helps a lot,” Nacey laughs. “The trif-quad has been a scary skill for me. I told myself ‘now or never.’ … I just went for it. Sticking it sent me over the moon. It might not look like it in the video, but it was a great feeling, definitely.”

“The video” is the replay of the pass, which has been viewed over 1.4 million times on the USA Gymnastics Facebook page and shared by almost 13,000 users. It shows Nacey’s stick, but also the whole of the Sofia crowd exploding upon his finish, blown away by what they’ve seen.

“It’s a great feeling to help people see what we do and how cool it is,” Nacey said sheepishly of his viral video. He was inundated with messages of congratulations.

The 2017 season done and Nacey far exceeding his goals or plans, he is set to step away from the sport for at least a year but hesitates to call himself “retired.” The World Championships in 2019 look rather enticing, he said.

“I’m waiting for myself to want to be back in the gym. I’ve never tried this retirement thing,” he explained. “I’ll see how I feel.”

Nacey is as understated about his success as his reaction to his pass at Worlds: “Hitting that pass that I had never done in double-mini… hitting that and getting the silver medal, that was a big relief for me. It was a great feeling.”

But, no matter if he chooses to walk away for good or not, he has quite the 2017 season to look back to, World Games and World Championships combined.

His summary: “It was pretty fantastic.”

Four words for the quad seen ‘round the world.