When her Grade 7 gym teacher first introduced her to sport stacking, Jackie Huang had no idea she would soon become the fastest girl in the world.
Sport stacking is an individual and team sport that involves stacking plastic cups in specific sequences, as quickly as possible.
After her unit in gym class at Sir Robert Borden High School was over, then 13-year-old Huang decided to try it at home.
“I got the hang of it, and then my friend had a set of cups,” recalls Huang, now 19. “She let me borrow it and I started practising.”
The soft-spoken teen said that while she didn’t initially set out to dominate the sport, she had an inkling that she had a knack for it.
“In the beginning, I thought just getting the hang of it was pretty cool,” she says. “After I started practising, I thought, ‘maybe I could get really good at this.’”
“Good” is quite the understatement. After practising about an hour a day for a year, Huang convinced her parents to take her to her first tournament in Oshawa, where she broke all three Canadian records for her age group.
“My parents were really shocked,” laughs Huang. She completed the 3-3-3 in 2.25 seconds, the 3-6-3 in 2.56 seconds and the Cycle in 6.83 seconds.
In official sport stacking events, there are three sequences – the 3-3-3, the 3-6-3 and the Cycle. The 3-3-3 uses nine cups, with the sequence consisting of three sets of three cups each.
The 3-6-3 uses 12 cups; this sequence is similar to the 3-3-3, except that a six-stack replaces the three-stack in the middle.
The Cycle is a sequence of stacks using 12 cups: a 3-6-3 stack; a 6-6 stack; and a 1-10-1 stack, finishing in a down stacked 3-6-3.
“Cycle is the longest and biggest one,” says Huang. “It’s very complicated; you can mess up very easily in that one.”
Fair point, especially when you consider how incredibly fast a player’s hands move in a competition.
“It’s very fast – every second counts,” she says. “One time at a tournament, I lost by 0.2 of a second.”
Despite the pressure to move as fast as lightning, Huang was hooked on sport stacking. After competing for the first time in Rochester, she went on to compete in another 15 tournaments across North America, including two World Sport Stacking Championships.
Huang consistently performed well. In fact, she held the world record for Cycle for over a year, as well as the 3-6-3 record for a few months between 2012 – 2013. This means during that time, she was named the overall fastest girl in the world.
Her raw talent certainly didn’t go unnoticed. In early 2012, Huang was thrilled to be invited to demonstrate sport stacking on the inaugural episode of the CBC show Canada’s Smartest Person.
“I showed the contestants how to do it,” says Huang, who travelled to Toronto for filming. “It was a good experience – I got to see behind the scenes.”
Sport stacking has taken Huang to Quebec, New York, Michigan, Virginia, Iowa, Florida and Texas, and she has made connections with other stackers from around the globe.
“I met a lot of new friends from different countries,” says Huang. “I have friends in the U.S., Taiwan, Germany, Korea, Japan, Australia, Malaysia. You make friends all over the world.”
Sport stacking has also helped her to improve her skills in other sports.
“It’s good for hand-eye coordination,” says Huang. “It helped me with basketball and touch football in high school.”
Today, Huang is ranked as the second-best overall female stacker in Canada – and the 22nd overall female sport stacker in the world.
This past May, she travelled to Quebec and competed at the Championnat de l’Est Canadien. She beat the Cycle world record for her age group (Collegiate), and was the first female overall.
While she still loves sport stacking, she doesn’t intend to continue competing indefinitely.
“I’m getting older and kids are getting faster,” says Huang, adding that sport stacking is hugely popular in Korea, where the training is very rigorous. “Maybe in about five years I won’t compete as often.”
University fills her time these days. She just finished her second year of the Information Technology, Interactive Multimedia and Design program at Carleton University, and she plays with the Ravens badminton team. She also landed a summer job working with Statistics Canada.
This July, Huang hopes to compete in the Junior Olympics in Detroit, if she’s able to take the time off from work. She provides demos at trade shows and events, and hopes more kids will give sport stacking a try in the future.
“It’s a very fun sport – give it a try,” says Huang. “Kids these days just spend time on their phones; it’s a good way for them to do something else, step away from the phone for a bit.
“You need a lot of concentration and focus; you have to spend time doing it.”
The official sport stacking cups – which come in a set of 12 – can be purchased through the Speed Stacks Canada website at speedstacks.ca.
Although sport stacking competitions don’t typically offer prize money, Huang says she has a table full of medals and trophies in the basement of her parents’ house.
“Before I started (sport stacking), I didn’t get any trophies or any medals,” says Huang. “My mom told me that when I was little, she was going to go out and buy me a trophy – just to make me feel better.
“Now I have more medals than she could ever wish for me.”