All of that stuff was rolling through my head when we won.  I had been out with an injury the entire year before the Olympics.  I had been offered a full scholarship to Georgia, but I deferred for a year.  My parents were making great sacrifices for me to pursue my goals.  I kept asking God, "Am I meant to do this?  Tell me: am I'm supposed to stay in gymnastics, or supposed to move on?"

In the moment, of course, He never gave me the answer.  At 19, I was begging for answers.  But He doesn't give you the answer, because trusting is part of life, continually trusting.  I'm glad I trusted God in those hard times, glad I stuck with it, because God brought me to the Olympics and ultimately to the gold medal. 

For young gymnasts of faith, are there tensions between the prevailing values and pressures of gymnastics, and the desire to live in a way consistent with Christian faith?  Are there temptations or tensions young gymnasts should know about?

I was fortunate.  I was blessed with such great people around me.  Much of that had to do with my parents.  My parents never forced things on my brother and me: not our faith, not our sports, not our friends.  Yet they taught us about surrounding ourselves with the right people, the kind of people we want to be.  For me, that's my biggest recommendation for the kids I get to work with. 

In today's world, unfortunately, whether in gymnastics or not, there is so much out there for kids to see and experience.  It blows me away.  I try to give our kids a sense of personal confidence.  I tell them to consider the kind of person they want to be, and try give them that sense of confidence, of standing tall, and not worrying about everything and everyone around us.  We should be the kind of person that other people want to be surrounded by.  My parents gave me that sense of confidence in who I was, and I am so grateful to them for that. 

Many kids drift to other kids, and unfortunately it doesn't seem like many kids are going the right direction with their faith.  But if you can give them that sense of confidence that they can be the kind of person everyone else wants to be around, it helps a lot.  I try to be a strong role model for the kids.  We talk about faith and character a lot. 

Many of the kids on my team ask if they can pray before competition.  I don't force it on them, because when it's forced it's not nearly as beneficial.  But my kids are interested naturally, just from the small things I say, and the comments about taking the pressure off your shoulders because no human being can handle all the tough things we go through.

But gymnastics, for me, gave me a lot of self-pride, that drive to want to be great at something for myself.  But it also gave me a sense of appreciation toward God.  Now that I'm getting older, I really appreciate the talents God gave me.  Not just physically, but mentally and emotionally.  Things you don't realize when you're 19, but you greatly appreciate as you get older. 

Those are the character qualities I try to communicate to my gymnasts now.

 

For similar articles, see the series on Faith, Gymnastics and Olympic Glory.