My body was falling apart at 14 years old, and I was confused about why this was happening now. It was a struggle. I kept praying, "Please God, help me make this Olympic team that I've always worked for."
I knew that God had a path for me and would bring what was best for me - but I also had a feeling, deep down, that I was meant to be on that team. But when it's left up to chance, and you're relying on a petition, and you're relying on your body to heal in time to do your best, there are a lot of uncertainties. That was my first experience with real adversity. It taught me some things about how to deal with emotional pain, and how to overcome the difficulties and road blocks along the way to achieving my goals.
Ultimately I was petitioned onto the team on the strength of my earlier performances. When they announced that I had made the Olympic Team, at the Olympic Trials, I felt very relieved. I was so young, and there was so much tension and stress. I relied on my faith that things were going to happen the way they were supposed to happen. Then as I stood on the floor with my teammates, and we stood together before the crowd as the new Olympic team, I felt such gratitude. I definitely said "Thank you, Lord, for helping make this happen."
So you were fulfilling a lifelong dream of going to the Olympic Games - and doing so in Atlanta, before a home crowd. Can you describe what that felt like? Did you participate in the opening ceremonies?
Since we competed two days later, our coaches kept us isolated-but I wanted so deeply to go to the opening ceremonies. I longed to be there with the other athletes. They were kicking off the Olympic Games in our country, and there's so much emotional momentum that you feel there. The opening ceremonies mark a special part of the Olympic Games for an athlete, and the coaches and federation should try to allow the athletes an equal opportunity to attend the event. I know I would have loved to have been there.
On the night of the opening ceremonies, the coaches had set a time when our lights had to be off, since we had morning training the following day. So I pretended that I had fallen asleep with the TV on, so that I could peek through one eye and watch the opening ceremonies. Then I saw Bela's feet beneath the doorway as he came to make sure I had gone to sleep. He knocked lightly and didn't hear anything, so he came in and I pretended I had fallen asleep with the television on. He peered over my bed and walked out. It was really strange, but that's my memory of the opening ceremonies.
However, although I was saddened to miss the opening ceremonies, I understood we had to rest for the competition two days later. And although I didn't get to experience the Olympic village or interacting with athletes from other sports in the cafeterias, I gained other experiences that I will treasure for the rest of my life, experiences that are extraordinary especially for a 14-year-old. I gained a bond with my teammates that will last a lifetime, and a record that my team accomplished that will be in the history books forever. That's extremely meaningful to me.
You were a member of the "Magnificent Seven" team that won the gold medal. Sometimes we see gymnastics teams, especially the women's teams, praying in the midst of competition. Did you pray together as a team?