We grew marijuana in the house as though it was a houseplant. So when a gymnast came over, I would pray that they wouldn't recognize what kind of plants those were. They never did.
It was rough for me. On the one hand, I was trying to hide this other life from my teammates. On the other hand, if I used proper English around my cousins or other family members, they would make fun of me and say that I was trying to be white. Here I am, this little black girl, and I didn't fit in socially at the gym. Yet I didn't fit into the environment I was growing up around, either, because I was a gymnast and I had been exposed to things others hadn't been exposed to. It was a difficult time for me.
Do you feel that gymnastics broadened your horizons? Did it give you a larger sense of life's possibilities? In that sense, do you think gymnastics helped you out of a setting of drugs and violence?
Yes, absolutely. I know that God used gymnastics to save me. Gymnastics saved me from a lot of madness and mess. I have people I went to school with who are dead now, or who are strung out on drugs, or who are on welfare having multiple children to collect more welfare. Had I not had gymnastics practice to go to, to keep me out of that environment, that would have been me. I am sure of it. Had I not had gymnastics at UCLA and mandatory drug testing, that would have been me. I was not a strong person. I grew up in a household where there was some verbal abuse and things going on that caused me to withdraw and not share with people. I was very quiet and had all these stresses on my mind.
I think gymnastics just did wonders, especially in terms of exposing me to the lifestyles of other people. I look back and I am thankful that God had me traveling the world while I was young, had me staying in the homes of people who had different types of careers. I saw that there was more to life than my city block.
So, take us a little further in the story. You left home and enrolled at UCLA. How did you become a Christian?
I was actually visiting Corwin [now her husband]. We had just started seeing each other. I went to see him on a Sunday, and the football players at UCLA stay in the Suites. I went over to his suite and saw a Bible on his desk. I remember thinking, "What in the world is a Bible doing on his desk?" I knew that they had Bibles in hotel rooms, so I thought that maybe they had Bibles in their dorms.
I asked him whose Bible it was, and he told me it was his. I thought he was lying, so I said, "Well, what did you do today?" He told me that he had gone to church. Again, I thought he was trying to impress me. "Well," I said, "what did you learn in church today?" I wanted him to prove that he had gone to church.
Corwin is one of those guys who can hear a message and repeat it all back to you. So he went through the scripture the pastor went through, and shared with me exactly what he had learned. That's when I knew. I had already known there was something special about him, because he was so different than anyone I had met. But that's when I started realizing that it was his faith that made him different.
We continued to see one another, and then one day he worked up the nerve to share with me "The Four Spiritual Laws." So we sat on his bed in his dorm room, and he shared the Four Spiritual Laws with me.
Now, mind you, it was my sophomore year when I met him. The previous summer, something important had happened in my life. I had gone out late at night with friends to a Burger King restaurant. There were some words exchanged between the guys in our group and some guys in the parking lot.
We thought the incident was over, but when we walked up into the front of the restaurant, I remember hearing this guy screaming and yelling, coming up from behind me. When I turned around, I found myself staring down the barrel of a gun. This young man was screaming and telling me he was going to kill me while he held this gun only an inch away from my forehead.
Now, before gymnastics became a mainstay in my life, I had based my value on how I could handle drugs, how I could roll joints. Then at UCLA I started basing my value on my ability to perform gymnastics. But at that moment, with the gun at my head, everything I had looked to in order to give me value or worth was worth absolutely nothing. I was able to walk away from that moment unharmed, but I walked away thinking there had to be more to life than this.