Transitions. We all go through them. Some easier than others, but in general they are really tough. At 26, I have gone through more transitions in my life than I probably thought I would have at this age. Each one teaching me more about myself every time.
When I was 18 years old I achieved my lifelong dream, Olympic Gold. 24 hours later I was left thinking, "Now what"? My whole life (18 years of it at that point) was all about gymnastics. It defined me as a person. I didn't know life without gymnastics.
I celebrated, I laughed, and then I cried. I had to make my first difficult decision. At the young age of 18, do I retire or continue doing something that brings so much happiness, and yet so much pain at the same time? I decided to continue. So now at 22 years old, I tried to make my second Olympic Team.
And this is what became my defining moment of my entire career. 5 Olympic medals, 9 World Championship medals, and an ESPY award didn't give me the feeling I had in San Jose that summer.
As I mounted the bar for my routine, 20 seconds in I found myself laying face flat on the mat. Needless to say, my Olympic dreams were over. Within the matter of 20 seconds my life had changed. It was time to move on. But first, I needed to finish my bar routine. As I got up and landed on my feet, 20,000 people rose to their feet. I looked around in disbelief. My first standing ovation of my entire career. But why? Why were they on their feet for the worst routine of my life? That's when it hit me...
For so many years I had a fear of not being loved or supported if I didn't win the gold medal or succeed. In that moment everything changed. When I looked around and saw 20,000 people on their feet loving and supporting me in what I thought was the worst moment of my life, my eyes filled with tears. Emotions overtook my entire body.
As I reflected back on that moment, I knew that with some time to heal, it would become the most memorable moment of my career. Don’t get me wrong; when I won the gold medal 4 years prior it was an amazing moment. It taught me that hard work pays off. If you set a goal/dream and work hard every single day, anything is possible. But the moment I had 4 years later, made me realize so much more about life. Through the ups and downs, successes and failures, people would still love and support me no matter what color medal I received (or didn’t receive).
Now it was on to the next transition. At the ripe age of 22, it was time to hang up my grips and leotard and retire. And that was one of the hardest moments of my life. Something that defined me as a person was now over. Who was I without gymnastics? Would people even like me if I wasn’t a gymnast? What were my new passions? New goals and dreams?
It was time to figure it all out. While some of those things I have figured out, some of those things I’m still learning. I moved to NYC a few months after my “retirement” to start a new chapter of my life. I’m currently a little over a month away from graduation from New York University, and engaged to the love of my life.
See, the thing is, I’m sure you’re thinking what a relief it was not to have to train 7 hours a day, 6 days a week anymore. But for 22 years I had been coached. When to wake up, what to eat, when to eat, what to do for strength and cardio work, how many routines to do. All that was taken away from me. I had to figure out life on my own. From being a world class athlete who had been physically fit my whole life, to somewhat struggling post “retirement”.
My body didn’t know what to do when I stopped training that much. Gaining 20 pounds and losing all self-confidence, this was a transition I struggled with most. Not only did I have to figure out my body but I had to figure out my career. I quickly turned from being a coached athlete into an entrepreneur. While I had an amazing team guiding me, I had to figure it all out. I was used to being influenced my entire life by my gymnastics idols and other sports legends. Now the roles were reversed. I was now an influencer. I learned to truly love that role, and continue to take it with great honor and pride.
Transitioning away from being a gymnast was scary, but brought me to my happiest place yet. Here’s what I learned:
It’s easy to resist the things that scare you most. It’s difficult going to the edges of your comfort zone. But if you trust yourself, you’ll be surprised by how much you expand your limits beyond what you thought was possible.