Competing on the world stage during the Olympics this past summer was a truly amazing experience. It was a dream come true for me, and it’s something I’ll never forget. I learned so much about myself, and teamwork, and about how to rise to the occasion under great pressure.
And since we returned home from Rio, I’ve come to realize that the experience is serving me well in ways that I never would have imagined.
Like, for instance, the other day I had to take this math test. It was geometry. Proofs.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit: I’m not the biggest fan of math. Last year, I took algebra, and I really kind of hated it. Then people were like, Well, if you liked algebra then you’ll hate geometry, but if you hated algebra there’s actually a chance that you might like geometry. And thankfully that has kind of been the case for me this year. I’m not going to say I like math now … because it’s not my favorite. But I don’t mind it as much.
Anyway, even though I’m sort of O.K. with geometry, it’s not like it’s easy. And I was really nervous about this test. I just kept thinking, Oh, my God. I don’t know how to do this stuff. I don’t know anything. I’m gonna fail.
But then, right when I started to really feel stressed, something pretty cool happened.
I stopped myself and just kind of calmed down.
I told myself, Remember to breathe.
Then I was like, Awww snap … I did that same thing before every event at the Olympics.
Suddenly, the test wasn’t such a big deal.
So, yeah, it’s been really nice to be able to draw on that experience in my day-to-day life. But at the same time, there’s still a bunch of stuff that being in the Olympics can’t help you out with.
Cooking breakfast, for example.
A few weeks ago, I learned how to make scrambled eggs for the first time ever.
I’m pretty excited about it.
For the past few months I’ve been living out in L.A. for Dancing with the Stars, and my whole family is back in Jersey. So I’ve had to figure out how to do a bunch of things on my own — as a 16-year-old. My mom usually comes out on the weekends, so during one of her recent visits, I was like, “Mom … it’s time. You need to teach me how to cook scrambled eggs.”
And so she did. She taught me. It was great.
And I have to say: I’ve been doing O.K. so far. I haven’t burned anything yet. That’s always a plus, right?
I might try omelets next.
Julio Cortez/AP Images
Get this: I actually made Kanye smile. So I feel like that’s good luck for the rest of my life basically.
Here’s another thing that the Olympics can’t really prepare you for: making small talk with Kanye West.
I didn’t know what to expect when my teammates and I met him a few months ago at the VMAs. I mean, the media kind of makes it seem like he is really intimidating. So I was just sort of hoping for the best. And then, all of a sudden, there he was. So I’m standing there talking to Kanye, and I’m just kind of thinking to myself: I’m standing directly in front of Kanye West right now. I was like, Is this real? Am I actually here doing this?
It was weird.
And, you know … he actually is kind of intimidating. But he ended up also being totally cool.
Plus, get this: I actually made Kanye smile. I said, “I love Kanye more than Kanye loves Kanye!” And he responded with a great big smile.
So I feel like that’s good luck for the rest of my life basically.
That experience and meeting Beyoncé at the VMAs were huge highlights for me.
It’s weird, because I’ve been running around so much lately, and have been so busy, that I haven’t had much time to really sit back and think about everything that has happened for me since Rio. You just kind of get into go-mode and keep moving. But then, you know, you’re in a beautiful dress taking pictures with Beyoncé, and it’s like, Oh, wow … this is a really incredible thing I’m experiencing right now.
And, I have to admit, meeting Beyoncé was just crazy. I was like, WHAAAAAT?!?!? The fact that I even got within 10 feet of her was amazing, but then, you know, getting a hug from her? That was insane. I thought I was going to fall through the floor.
It’s so crazy to think that Beyoncé knows who I am. But after I got home from the Olympics, I quickly realized that lots and lots of people all over the country recognize me now.
That’s even more the case since I’ve been on Dancing with the Stars. And, I have to say, I love the fact that people come up to me and wish me well, or tell me they are inspired by me, or want to be in pictures with me. It’s so sweet, and I’m super grateful to receive that kind of support.
At the same time, it’s been a challenge to try and live a normal life, or to go out and have fun or do things that I used to do before Rio.
I was only home for two weeks or so after the Olympics before I went to L.A., and I’ve only made one other trip back home since then. But during those times, I really tried to catch up on some of the things I love doing.
When I’m back home, one of my very favorite things to do is to go to the mall with my sister, Jelysa. We just hang out and have fun. And I really love the makeup stores. I could spend hours in those shops just looking at all the makeup — it’s super girly, I know. But I always love doing my own makeup.
In terms of food, you better believe that when I’m back home I’m going out for hoagies. Me and my brother have this one sandwich place that makes the best hoagies in the world. Going there is one of our favorite things to do together. Most of the time I’m partial to just a typical hoagie … nothing too fancy. But sometimes I do like to change it up and go with a panini. You know, just every once in a while to keep things interesting.
It always surprises my brother when I do that.
But you can’t order the same old hoagie every time, you know?
Rebecca Blackwell/AP Images
So, yes, it’s definitely true that I like to do all that stuff in my spare time, but I’m not even going to try and lie … usually if I have some free time, I’m probably on my phone. I could attempt to get away with saying something different, but everyone who knows me would call me out.
I use my phone a lot when I’m not training or doing schoolwork. And it’s all social media.
I feel like Snapchat is almost easier than texting at this point. That’s just the way me and my friends talk. So the best way to text my friends, or my siblings, is to Snapchat them.
Then, if I’m just hanging out at home, I’ll usually also be watching movies or TV shows or something. Me and my sister love Law & Order. That’s our favorite. But other than that, I like just going on Netflix and watching whatever looks good. A couple of weeks ago, I finished the first season of Stranger Things. I loved it! Great season. Really. I totally recommend it. I love the fact that the main characters are kids. In most TV shows the main characters are always adults or older teenagers, but with this one, it’s all about the kids.
I really love that!
The thing about being home, though, is that I have to do chores.
Believe me, I’m not complaining. It’s the least I can do considering all that my parents have done for me. I owe everything to my parents and my family. All that I’ve accomplished is because of them, and due to their support and love over the years. But, yeah, I don’t get any breaks because I was fortunate enough to earn some Olympic medals. There are times when I’ll come home after a long workout and my dad will be like, Alright, time to take out the trash. And I’m just like, Awwwww man.
I do it, though, of course. And dishes. And I help cleanup after dinner, stuff like that. But it’s not so bad.
And, plus, in some ways, I kind of luck out because a lot of the time my dad will take care of the more difficult chores. Like when it snows, and the driveway needs cleared … that’s all him. In those cases it’s more likely that I’ll be outside throwing snowballs at my dad and being silly while he shovels.
I think maybe after I get my driver’s license things might change a little bit. I’ll be driving places, so I’ll probably feel like I should pitch in more when it comes to clearing snow from the driveway.
And hopefully, if all goes according to plan, I’ll be getting my license as soon as possible.
I can’t wait for that. It’s going to be so awesome.
Eric McCandless/ABC via Getty Images
Before I can go back home and get my license, though, I’ve got some work to do on the finals of Dancing with the Stars.
I’m so excited.
I mean, the past couple of months have been insane. So much has happened to me, and it’s been such a whirlwind. There was one week when I went to five different states in five days. But I still managed to stay working out, and stay dancing. And all the while, I’ve kept up with my schoolwork, too. Just today I did five hours of lessons. So, I don’t know, I’m kind of high-fiving myself right now.
I’m proud of what I’ve done this year. And I really do think that things are only going to keep getting better. I just feel so lucky and grateful in every way for everything that I’ve experienced, and I can’t wait to see what’s going to happen next.
People have been asking me lately if I’m nervous for the finals.
Well … of course I am. But I’m nervous in a different way than I would’ve been in the past, thanks to my experience in Rio. The Olympics didn’t teach me how to avoid becoming nervous, but they helped me to understand how to cope with being nervous. And how to perform at a high level even when you’re experiencing some nerves.
So we’ll see what happens. All I know is that it is going to be so much fun. And I’m going to enjoy every second of it!
Oh, and just in case you were wondering, I got a 94 on that geometry test.