Pint-Sized Phenoms: Terrific Teens Edition

This group of outstanding teenagers might make you feel bad about yourself! They all have found ways to achieve in distinctive and varied ways-- from sports to extreme activities to academics-- at such a young age. Here are some impressive feats they accomplished in the past month or so (Note: I think it's important sometimes to focus on older "kids," for fear of building up hype for kids so young they can never live up to it, like Cody Paul, who was recently featured in a great follow-up in ESPN The Magazine). 1. Mikaela Shiffrin- At just 16 Shiffrin is making waves on the slopes.  Just before the new year she became the youngest female skier on a World Cup podium since 1978, placing third in the slalom.  She is also the youngest US national slalom champion. I'm guessing we'll hear her name a lot at the 2014 Olympics!

2. Laura Dekker- Dekker is another impressive (if controversial) 16-year-old girl. She just became the youngest person to circumnavigate the  globe alone.  Her record isn't officially recognized though because after some disastrous recent attempts (like Abby Sunderland, and her brother, Zac, both of whom I've written about before), neither the World Sailing Speed Record Council nor the Guinness Book of World Records will recognize those records to "discourage dangerous attempts."  Dekker's parents fought the Dutch government for the right to let their daughter pursue this goal (the government thought it was unsafe). No word on what her next record-breaking adventure will be.

3. Jordan Romero- Well, she won't be breaking the record for youngest person to summit the tallest peaks on all seven continents, because 15-year-old Jordan Romero just earned that honor. At just ten Romero scaled Kilimanjaro and he finished his feat on Antarctica. Currently a high school sophomore I'm guessing he is going to write one heck of a college admissions essay.

4. Sierra Mudra- 16-year-old Mudra also has a great story to tell on her college applications. When she was born she weighed under two pounds. Now a high school junior who has a slight case of cerebral palsy, Mudra hopes to become the first professional skateboarder with a disability.  Based on her story she recently attended The X Games and will soon appear on a billboard in Times Square.

5. Samantha Garvey- The big recent feel-good student story, of course, is that of Samantha Garvey, the 18-year-old high school senior named a semi-finalist in the Intel science competition for her research on mussels (not to be confused with the Seimens competition, which had Angela Zhang as its impressive winner). Garvey achieved this honor despite living in a homeless shelter (though in many ways her teacher, Rebecca Grella, is the real hero of the story).  Though she did not make the final cut of 40 to reach finalist status, Garvey now has an agent and even attended the State of the Union (where, coincidentally, my husband's research on how much a good teacher is worth was discussed by the President [See slide 36]).  Though her college essays are almost certainly completed, Garvey will have some impressive tales to tell for years to come...

Pint-Sized Phenoms: End-of-year Girl Power

As the end of the year approaches we are inundated with people of the year winners and Top 10 lists. There's even an award for "Sports Kid of the Year," awarded by SI Kids.

This year's winner is Noah Flegel, the 14-and-under world champion in wakeboarding.  While the top three finalists were all boys, four girls were part of the top 10 semi-finalists: Nastasya Generalova (11, Rhythmic Gymnastics), Sage Donnelly (11, Kayaking), Lauren Williams (12, Track), and Lynne Wang (10, Swimming).  I found Lynne's story particularly inspiring.  Lynne is missing part of her left arm, but that didn't stop her from qualifying for the 2011 Junior Olympics in the 100-yard butterfly (note that this is for able-bodied swimmers, not those with a disability).

Another inspirational, 11-year-old female athlete is Wakana Ueda.  Last week Wakana completed the Honolulu Marathon.  Her time wasn't impressive (she finished in 14 hours, 3 minutes, and 12 seconds). So why mention her? Well, besides her age, Wakana is blind.  The Japanese youngseter pushed through significant physical discomfort to finish the race-- something I'm not sure I could ever do!

But female athletes aren't the only impressive pint-sized phenoms.  Seventeen-year-old Californian Angela Zhang is an extremely impressive young woman.  Earlier this month Angela won the 2011 Seimens Competition in Math, Science, and Technology, along with $100,000 scholarship.  Her research, on how to eradicate cancer stem cells, could be available as a treatment in 15 to 20 years. Not surprisingly, Angela is also an Intel International Science and Engineering Fair winner (two years in a row, in fact).  It's great to see a young, female scientist excel so early in her scientific "career;" I can only imagine how far she will go with her education and with the right mentorship.

Good luck to all of these pint-sized phenoms in 2012, and beyond!