Twenty years ago, I was excited and proud to represent America as a gymnast. Even though I had severely injured my ankle on the first vault attempt I went for a second – sticking the landing on one foot to help bring home the Gold. It was exhilarating. It also pushed me into the spotlight, giving me a platform that allowed me to be a voice for young women everywhere. It was a humbling and life-changing experience that has shaped the career decisions I made throughout my life.
For so long, my focus was on my training. As a world-class athlete, your sport becomes your everything and it’s hard to focus on much outside of that. Following the 1996 win, everything changed. I suddenly found myself in front of cameras, on magazines, and speaking with kids of all ages who saw me as a role model. I realized how lucky I was to have the chance to realize my dreams and make my voice heard. And I wanted to make sure others had the same chances that I did.
After completing my education, I became a 2nd grade teacher in a Title 1 school in San Jose, CA. I then decided to move to DC, where I worked in student correspondence answering the heartwarming and often moving letters children write to the President. I wanted to continue my work in public service and stayed in government, moving to the Treasury Department and then to my current role as a program manager at the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
Growing up, I had a huge support network of my parents, trainers, and educators. Now, I work to advocate for those children that do not have this safety net – providing mentorship and the resources they need to succeed.
I also think it’s important to lend my voice to campaigns that promote education around public health issues, a topic that has always interested me as a former athlete. I am currently working with the U.S. Pain Foundation and McNeil Consumer Healthcare to educate people about the importance of responsibly choosing and using over-the- counter (OTC) pain relievers. For athletes and non-athletes alike, choosing to take an OTC pain reliever might seem like an easy decision, but it’s a decision that needs to be taken seriously. Through working on this campaign, I was surprised to learn that many people don’t consider important safety factors like their age, their current medical conditions and other medicines they may be taking when they choose an OTC pain reliever and that could increase the risks associated with certain OTC pain relievers. So, it’s important for everyone to always read and follow the Drug Facts label on their medicine to make sure that their pain reliever is still a good fit for them. Working on this campaign has been rewarding, both professionally and personally as it’s provided me with a role in promoting safer and healthier decision-making.
My time as an athlete gave me the inspiration and ability to use my voice for something bigger than myself. Public service has defined who I am, and I’m proud to have the opportunity to work to promote the health and safety of families all over the country.
Kerri Strug vaulted into Olympic history with her courageous performance during the 1996 Olympic Games. Kerri landed an unforgettable vault on an injured ankle to help the U.S. clinch its first Olympic gold medal in the team gymnastics competition. Currently a political appointee at the United [...]