by Leslie Farin
I remember Mary Lou Retton Well
I remember Mary Lou Retton well and was a huge fan long before I attended the 4word 2021 Virtual Gala this past Saturday night. However, after listening to her interview with Molly Fletcher, who you may know as the first female sports agent, I love her even more. Standing tall at only 4’9″, she’s a powerhouse in a tiny body.
I vividly remember Mary Lou Retton’s performance in the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. There, she became the first American woman to win the all-around gold medal in an Olympic Games, then went on to win four additional medals, two silvers and two bronzes. Catapulted to fame at only 16 years old, she became one of the most popular athletes in the United States overnight. Sports Illustrated named her the Sportswoman of the Year that same year, and she was the first female athlete to appear on a Wheaties box. Later she was inducted into the Gymnastics Hall of Fame.
My Love Affair With Mary Lou Retton Gegan in 1984
I was a gymnast too. Just to be clear though, my talent did not compare to Mary Lou’s in any way, shape, or form. Still, I made the varsity gymnastics team in high school and loved every minute of it. Throughout the 1984 games, I watched the gymnastic performances obsessively, particularly enamored with Mary Lou Retton.
Not Such a Storybook Life
As I listened to her talk at the gala, I realized there is a great deal I don’t know about Mary Lou Retton. I can talk about her gymnastic achievements at the drop of a hat, but she is so much more than her Olympic medals. From a distance, we see her seemingly storybook life, but the reality is she’s human, like the rest of us. There’s a lot of strength behind her bright smile, but also some vulnerability.
A self-professed “redneck” from West Virginia, Retton left her close-knit Italian family and moved to Houston at age seven to live with a Romanian gymnastics coach who spotted her at an event. It was hard, but she never looked back. Even at that young age, she knew what she wanted.
She was trained to win, which means she worked hard for many hours a day often with significant pain. Only six weeks before the 1984 Olympics, she required extensive knee surgery. Arthroscopic surgery was brand new at that time and no one knew if the procedure would be successful.
While in Los Angeles, doctors advised her to go home, saying there would be other Olympic games. Determined to compete for a chance at her dreams, she insisted on entering the events. She came this far and was not going to leave without giving it her all.
Now, I’m not advocating that young people chance to destroy their bodies for a sport. Retton mentioned herself during the interview that pushing herself the way she did resulted in physical issues later in life. But I respect her desire to at least try; she did not want to have regrets. And try she did; her performance was not only flawless, she made it look easy.
One of her most popular quotes resonates strongly with me as it applies to my own life. I think of it often:
“Don’t have regrets, just try it. We learn so much more from our failures than our successes.”
Advice from Mary Lou Retton
This steely determination remained with Retton throughout her life. Often she had to “dig deep” to get through tough times. she credits her strong Christian faith for helping her through them. But that doesn’t mean it was easy. She shared this quote during the interview,
“Erase the word “failure” from your vocabulary. No case is ever truly closed, and no challenge is ever over.”
Today, Mary Lou Retton continues to touch millions of lives as a motivational speaker, corporate spokesperson, author, and “Fitness Ambassador”. A budding actress, she also has many television and motion picture credits to her name. She is a positive role model and brings spirit and a commitment to excellence in all she does.
As a new empty nester, Retton confessed she struggles with her purpose. Most of us need a purpose in life; it drives everything. She also shared she recently ended a 28-year marriage. Though it was an unhealthy situation, she still feels divorce is a failure. She said, “As an athlete trained to win, I hate being vulnerable”. Intellectually and emotionally, she knows she did the right thing for all involved. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. As many in her situation know, it is scary to make drastic life changes, no matter how necessary. Now more than ever, she needs to heed the advice she gave to others over the years. She knows her faith will help guide her through this tough time as it has in the past.
More Inspiring Quotes From Mary Lou Retton
These quotes reflect Mary Lou Retton’s positive and determined outlook on life and her dedication to striving for greatness.
“Even though it may seem counterintuitive, a comfort zone is a dangerous place to be.”
“Each of us has a fire in our hearts for something. It’s our goal in life to find it and keep it lit.”
“I don’t think you have to be an expert in health and fitness to figure out what works best for your body.”
“Never underestimate the power of dreams and the influence of the human spirit. We are all the same in this notion: The potential for greatness lives within each of us.”
“Optimism is a happiness magnet. If you stay positive, good things and good people will be drawn to you.”
“As simple as it sounds, we all must try to be the best person we can: by making the best choices, by making the most of the talents we’ve been given.”
“There’s always a new challenge to keep you motivated.”
“Winners never quit, and quitters never win.”
“The moment you give up is the moment you let someone else win.”
“I love kids, outings, camping, sports, Legoland, all the Daddy stuff. I love it. I wish I could just do that, but I have to work, too.”
“My best friend is the one who brings out the best in me.”
Little Known Facts About Mary Lou Retton
Mary Lou Retton is a remarkable American gymnast who achieved international fame during the 1984 Summer Olympics, where she became the first American woman to win the all-around gold medal in gymnastics. Beyond her well-known achievements, there are some delightful and lesser-known trivia facts about her:
Mary Lou Retton’s full name is Mary Lou Retton Kelley. In 1990, she tied the knot with Shannon Kelley, who hails from an Italian background. This made her the daughter-in-law of the renowned former University of Notre Dame football coach, Lou Holtz. Family connections are always something to cherish! Unfortunately, she and Kelley divorced in 2018.
Accomplishments Before the Olympics
Prior to her historic Olympic success, Retton won the American Cup all-around title in 1983. Interestingly, she was initially declared the runner-up to Ecaterina Szabo of Romania. However, a scoring miscalculation was discovered later, and Mary Lou Retton was rightfully acknowledged as the actual winner, adding a unique twist to her journey.
Like many athletes, Retton faced her fair share of injuries during her gymnastics career. Notably, she endured a knee injury that required surgery a few weeks before the 1984 Olympics. Despite this setback, her determination and resilience shone through, and she went on to capture the all-around gold medal, proving that nothing can hold her back.
Honored by the Knights of Columbus
The Knights of Columbus, a fraternal service organization for Catholic men, recognized Mary Lou Retton’s exceptional accomplishments and contributions to sports by making her an honorary member. What a heartwarming gesture!
Sports Illustrated Sportswoman of the Year
In recognition of her extraordinary performance at the 1984 Olympics, Retton received several accolades. One of the most prestigious awards she earned was the title of Sports Illustrated Sportswoman of the Year, showcasing her significance in the sports world.
A Special TV Appearance on “Saved by the Bell”
Mary Lou Retton made a delightful guest appearance on the popular 1990s TV show “Saved by the Bell.” In the episode titled “Screech’s Spaghetti Sauce,” she played herself, adding a touch of gymnastic grace to the beloved show.
A Heart for Helping Others
Beyond her athletic achievements, Retton has a caring heart for those in need. She has been actively involved in charity work, supporting organizations like Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, and making a positive impact on the lives of children everywhere.
Mary Lou Retton’s dazzling Olympic triumph is just one part of her inspiring story. These lesser-known trivia facts highlight some delightful aspects of her life and career, revealing the warm and friendly person she is both on and off the gymnastics floor.
Mary Lou Retton was popular during the 1984 Games, and that popularity continued to soar for decades. Here are some frequently asked questions about her.
1. Who is Mary Lou Retton?
Mary Lou Retton is a retired American gymnast who gained worldwide fame during the 1984 Summer Olympics. Born on January 24, 1968, in Fairmont, West Virginia, she became the first American woman to win the all-around gold medal in gymnastics at the Olympics.
2. What made Mary Lou Retton famous?
Mary Lou Retton’s fame stems from her outstanding performance at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. She won five medals at the games, including gold in the all-around, becoming an instant sensation and inspiring countless people around the world.
3. What was Mary Lou Retton’s signature move?
One of Mary Lou Retton’s signature moves was the “Retton Flip” on the uneven bars. It was a unique release move that involved a front somersault over the high bar, showcasing her incredible athleticism and daring skills.
4. What was Mary Lou Retton’s impact on gymnastics?
Mary Lou Retton’s success and charisma had a significant impact on gymnastics, especially in the United States. Her achievements inspired a new generation of gymnasts and popularized the sport, leading to increased interest and participation in gymnastics across the country.
5. How many Olympic medals did Mary Lou Retton win?
Mary Lou Retton won a total of five medals at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. These included the gold medal in the all-around, as well as two silver medals and two bronze medals in individual events.
6. Did Mary Lou Retton face any challenges during her career?
Yes, Mary Lou Retton faced her fair share of challenges during her gymnastics career. One of the most notable obstacles was a knee injury that required surgery just weeks before the 1984 Olympics. Despite the setback, she persevered and delivered an exceptional performance at the games.
7. What did Mary Lou Retton do after retiring from gymnastics?
After retiring from competitive gymnastics, Mary Lou Retton pursued various ventures. She became a motivational speaker, television personality, and sports commentator. Additionally, she has been involved in charity work, supporting causes close to her heart.
8. Has Mary Lou Retton appeared in any TV shows or movies?
Yes, Mary Lou Retton has made guest appearances on various TV shows and movies. Notably, she appeared as herself in the popular 1990s TV show “Saved by the Bell,” adding a touch of gymnastic flair to the show.
9. Is Mary Lou Retton still involved in gymnastics?
Mary Lou continues to support and promote gymnastics through various roles, including as a commentator and advocate for gymnastics-related causes. Each of her four daughters, Shayla, McKenna, Skyla, and Emma, also followed in their mom’s footsteps with various types of involvement in gymnastics through the years.
10. How tall is Mary Lou Retton?
Mary Lou is four feet and nine inches tall.
About 4Word Women: This faith-based organization champions ten years of empowering and inspiring Christian women in the workplace through personal connection and mentorship to reach their potential with confidence. If you are interested in joining their women’s network or making a donation, please visit www.4wordwomen.org.
Thank you to Susan Friedman of Friedman PR for inviting me to this special event.