Mary Lou Retton: More than an Olympian

My whole life, I have constantly been asked the same question: “What is it like to have Mary Lou Retton as a mom?”

I would always answer them the same way, “Well, she’s like any other mom. She still takes my phone away and grounds me. The only thing that’s different is that she has to stop and take pictures with random people.”

My mom has been speaking publicly since she was only 18 years old. After she won the Olympics in 1984, she was named “America’s Sweetheart,” and she captured the hearts of many Americans whose eyes were glued to the television that summer.

I always heard the same things about her growing up – that she was amazing, she sparkled wherever she went and she really made an impact on people’s lives. I was finally able to fully understand how amazing she was on Oct. 13.

Until Oct. 13, I had never heard my own mother give a speech. On Oct. 13, 2016, at McLane Stadium, my mother spoke during the Acrobatics and Tumbling Kick-Off Dinner.

When she got up on stage in the Baylor Club, the crowd was silent. My tiny 4-foot-9-inch mother had hushed the entire room. Before she even spoke, I was proud to call her my mother. You could feel her positive energy as she stood on the stage.

I noticed little children’s eyes sparkle as they watched her speak, possibly dreaming about the same Olympic dream. The funny thing is, I have heard her “Olympic Story” thousands of times, but I actually learned some random things that I did not know.

For example, how she literally only had six weeks to fully recover from her knee injury right before the Olympics. I wasn’t able to actually understand how difficult this was until something similar happened to myself. I also have been through knee surgery, and while my case was more severe,

I still could not imagine only having six weeks to recover from someone cutting into my flesh — and not only recover, but to get to Olympic shape. It made me respect her more from an athlete’s perspective rather than just a daughter’s perspective.

But the most important thing that I learned is that my mother is fearless. Sure, her Olympic story is one for the books (it actually is in a book), but just her stage presence and the way she connects with people she had never even met was something that I was able to take away with a smile. After her speech was over, I rushed to my feet, teary eyed and started the clap.

“So did I do ok?” she asked me as she stepped off the stage. I nodded my head “yes” because I was afraid I might cry. She will never fully understand the effect that she has on people, and the effect she had on me that day. I am so proud and blessed to be able to call her my mom.