When something comes to an end, there are always mixed emotions. Whether it’s the end of high school, the end of college or the end of a career, there is the sadness that something is over but the excitement of new beginnings. Since the age of four, gymnastics was the center of my entire life. Deciding to end that part of my life was one of the most difficult, emotion-filled decisions I have ever made. I’ve been away from the gym for about a year now. The sadness has been replaced with contentment, and the excitement of college life and new beginnings continues to increase.
Yes, it’s time to for me to retire from elite gymnastics. But I can honestly say that I don’t have any regrets looking back on the past 15 years. I was fortunate because my life wasn’t necessarily what you’d imagine of an elite gymnast. There were restrictions, of course, like not being able to ski since the age of eight because of the risk of injury, or not being able to play school sports. But still, growing up, I had a sense of normalcy that may seem unexpected when imagining the life of an elite athlete.
I went to a public school, for example. I went to proms and dances, attended high school football games, and lived as close to a normal life as possible for a competitive gymnast. I did have a busy schedule, going from practice to school and back to practice again each day, but it was worth it to be able to have the experiences of a high school student. My ability to maintain a balance was mostly because I had two great parents who believed in it. Our home was conveniently only 20 minutes away from Gedderts’ Twistars — the gym where I practiced my entire career — and a high-school that was willing to be flexible with my travel schedule. All of which I am forever grateful.
My elite career started at a pretty young age. I remember traveling to the Karolyi Ranch in Texas, starting at age 10. By the time I was 17 years old, it was like a second home to me. I looked forward to being with my National Team teammates, who were some of my best friends. Some of my fondest memories are of traveling across the country — and the world — for competitions. I realize how lucky I was to see so much of the world at such a young age.
Sure, it wasn’t all fun and games. I had my share of injury set-backs, falls during competitions, bad practices and disappointment. But I honestly believe that all of those experiences helped make me who I am, and who I will become. Even if I had not had the chance to be on the Olympic team, I still value all the lessons I learned from the sport of gymnastics.
It goes without saying that the Olympics was the highlight of my career. As I move on from the sport, I want to be sure it is known that I am completely fulfilled and content with my experience at the Games. It was difficult to accept the reality of having an injury at the most crucial moment in my career. I am grateful that I was able to compete and be part of winning the Olympic Team Gold.
Being part of The Fierce Five — as we became known — was an amazing experience. We were all so supportive of one another and had such a desire to succeed for our country that gold was the only option. The moments after our performance and seeing our scores were pretty much all a blur. That experience is something we will all share with one another for life.
Following the 2012 Games, we went on a post-Olympic tour and stopped in 40 different cities, performing for fans. It was a whirlwind of excitement, celebrating our win and thanking those who cheered us on. After that was over, I went straight back to training. It was after enrolling at UCLA when I realized that the juggling act of being a student, team manager and professional gymnast wouldn’t allow me the time that I needed to continue my competitive career. I also began to realize that I felt fulfilled with what I had accomplished in my gymnastics career, and was ready to move on to the next phase of my life.
Although I’m leaving the sport I love, the principles it taught — sacrifice, maturity, perseverance and dedication — are traits that will stay with me forever. There are lessons from my experiences at the 2012 Olympics and my career in general that I want to spread to young girls through motivational speaking. For example, obstacles such as injury or bad practices and routines are only temporary setbacks. My goal is to use my unique story and experiences to hopefully guide and inspire other young athletes.
Retiring from gymnastics wasn’t an easy decision because it is a world I love. I loved the people, the competition, the traveling, the challenge. I loved the support I felt from gymnastics fans across the world. I truly appreciate all the kindness that was expressed over the years.
Gymnastics was an experience that changed my life forever and it will always be part of my life.