Tessa Piccillo has certainly had her ups and downs in life. But she's certainly on an upswing this week. The 17-year-old Castro Valley High student was dubbed the top female yo-yo-er at the 2014 World Yo Yo Contest ending on Aug. 9. Gentry Stein of Chico won the men's division. Their combined No. 1 titles put not only the United States, but Northern California on the map in the tightknit yo-yo world.
"I feel great," Tessa told NBC Bay Area Wednesday morning, after her plane touched down from Europe on Sunday night. "I'm kind of like just coming down from an amazing week." Tessa scored 80.4, beating out Julia Gutowska from Poland who scored 75, and Corli du Toit of South Africa who scored 58. The 18-year-old Stein scored 88.2, beating Takeshi Matsuura of Japan who scored 86.7 and Iori Yamaki of Japan who scored 81.4. "It was cool," Stein said by phone, one week before he starts attending Butte Community College in Chico. "I was thinking it would only be a matter of time."
There were 300 contestants all vying for the title, according to the World Yo-Yo Contest. It was held outside the United States - in Prague - for the first time this year. With the title, Tessa took home a trophy and 3,000 Czech crowns, which is about $150. She is sponsored by the Georgia-based YoYoJam Inc., which also helps sponsor the world event.
Scores are based on cleanliness, variation, rareness, execution, music choice, body control and showmanship.
Though Tessa was "nervous and excited" on stage, performing before a world audience including her family back at home watching a livestream, she also felt her tricks were "clean."
In a video of the championship, Tessa slings, and twists and manipulates her fingers, the string and a red yo-yo with expert skill. Her eyes are mostly glued to her yo-yo. Her dimpled face cracks into a smile only when she hits a hard move and the audience cheers her on.
Her father, Eric Piccillo, a wine distributor, said he wasn't completely surprised his middle daughter of three is now world champion. "I knew she had a really good shot at it," he said. "Like any dad, I got the kids into everything," Piccillo added, saying he coached all of his daughters, Emma, 20; Olivia, 13; and Tessa in basketball when they were younger. And then one day, he slipped Tessa a yo-yo. "I had it laying around," he said, "and she just took off with it."
That was about four or five years ago. Tessa watched YouTube videos to teach herself how to walk the dog and much more. When she's not running track, or dribbling a ball, Tessa practices with her yo-yo about two hours a day during the summer, and maybe 30 minutes a day - if that - during the school year.
"It's like a form of meditation for me," she said. "When I'm stressed out, it just makes me feel relaxed."