Not all of America’s greatest athletes are signing multi-million dollar endorsements, hoisting trophies, or climbing podiums. The young ones don’t have contracts or incentives or beef with the competition; they have a passion or a skill that sets them apart. When Fatherly set out to find the five greatest American athletes under five-years-old, we assumed there would be heartwarming stories (check), overbearing parents (check, but we excluded their kids to avoid encouraging all that), and prodigies (checkity check check). What we weren’t prepared for was the sense of genuine awe that the adults in these young peoples’ lives feel for their abilities and accomplishments.
We also dramatically underestimated how Instagram-famous these kids would be.
Outrageous abilities prompt parents to share and strangers to look. The common thread winding through the stories of the top pre-K athletes in America is discovery. Parents exposed their kids to an activity and discovered a preternatural gift that was, in turn, discovered by thousands — or, in some cases, millions — of strangers thanks to the perpetually gawking internet. Asher Willig, for instance, was just a toddler with the improbable ability to slug baseballs. Then he was an Instagram sensation. Then he was on Late Night hitting balls with Alex Rodriguez. In America, the sports industrial complex comes at you fast no matter how young you are.
At the end of the day, the amazing thing about these kids and what they can do is that it’s all about what they can do. It’s not about the politics or the competition or really about the coaching. It’s about some kids having focus and talent. It’s about the way children receive amazing gifts from both nature and their nurturing parents. It’s about the joy of having exceptional kids and the need to make sure that — despite all the opportunity and publicity — they are not excluded from their own childhoods.
Asher Willig, the hitter, Aspen Haight, the boarder, Ellie Farmer, the climber, Emma Rester, the gymnast, and Prisais Townsend, the crossfitter, are all exceptional young athletes. They are also just kids. And that’s enough.