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Olympic Gymnast Samantha Peszek
Samantha Peszek is 19 years old and already has accomplished more than many will in a lifetime. She began gymnastics in 1993 and this was the start of an outstanding career. In 2004, at just 12 years old, she became the youngest member of the U.S junior national team and she began competing for the U.S internationally. In 2007, she became a world champion and in 2008 she was named to the U.S Olympic team where she helped the U.S win a silver medal in the team competition. After the Olympics, she went back to high school to finish her senior year, had shoulder surgery and accepted a full ride gymnastics scholarship to UCLA. I had the chance to interview her about her incredible career and about what is next for her.
Did you miss out on normal childhood activities to train?
Growing up, I didn’t miss out on anything. I used to take ballet and tap and I also played soccer for a few years. I was a really active kid and I always wanted to be playing some kind of sport or make a competition out of anything I could. When I started becoming more dedicated gymnast, I realized I didn’t have time to play other sports. I wanted to solely focus on gymnastics because that is what I had the most passion for.
Unlike many elite gymnasts, you attended a private high school as opposed to doing home schooling. Was it difficult to balance gymnastics training and attending a regular school?
I remember a few times it was difficult to balance my gymnastics/school/traveling schedule, but I had been practicing time management in grade school when I had to miss class for competitions. It really came naturally to me because I wanted the best of both worlds, so I always worked hard to make sure I could be the best gymnast I could be as well as getting straight A’s. I was always really social, so I found that was the hardest for me to continue to do “normally” when I was so busy with training and studying. However, I went to all the football games, basketball games, and baseball games I could and I always found a way to attend dances and other school spirit functions. I consider myself so lucky to be fortunate enough to live a regular high school kid’s life on top of winning international medals for my country.
What was it like being a member of the 2008 Olympic team?
It would be impossible for me to sum up the Olympic Games because it was just that remarkable that no words could ever do it justice. There was so much pride that came with being on the USA team. I couldn’t have felt more honored to represent my country and more excited about the hard work and obstacles I knew we would have to overcome there. We were ready to challenge the world and we fought to maintain world-class status. The most incredible moment for me was walking out into the arena and seeing more American flags than Chinese flags and at that moment I have never felt more proud to be an American.
You injured your ankle while training in Beijing. Was it hard to only compete on the uneven bars in the qualification competition and have to watch your team mates compete the rest of the Olympics?
Of course, I would have rather competed the rest of the Olympic Games like my teammates, but it was important for the team for me to move on and not dwell on something that cannot change. After I injured myself, I immediately switched roles as a competitor to a motivator and that made me really teamwork in a different way. It killed me not to be able to contribute with my gymnastics, but I did everything else in my power for our team to succeed. I was proud to stand on the awards podium with my team earning the silver medal.
Your mom works for USA Gymnastics. Was it ever difficult being an elite gymnast and having your mom work for the gymnastics federation?
It was never difficult or awkward for my mom to work at USA gymnastics because she has been working there since before I was born. I grew up around gymnastics and around world-class athletes and I think their work ethic and dedication was something I was able to pick up on at a young age. Since she worked at the office, I went to many big competitions and I think by watching the girls, I developed a sense of direction and I knew that I wanted to be one of those “cool” gymnast’s one day.
What are your goals going forward and do you think you will try for the Olympics in 2012?
Right now, I am very happy to be a part of the UCLA gymnastics team. I just won the NCAA national champion balance beam title and our team took second behind Alabama in the team competition. I am working hard on getting and staying healthy and getting back to tip top shape. I would love to go to the Olympics in 2012, but as for right now I am taking one day at a time and focusing on other priorities first.
You worked hard to accomplish your dream of making the Olympic team. Do you have any advice for teens about how to accomplish dreams and goals?
The one thing I would tell kids is that if you have a dream no matter how impossible it may seem, go after it. My parents always told me I could do anything I set my mind to and after I made the Olympic team, I knew that was true. Also, if you want something bad enough, you have to chase after it and give 100% to it.
Are you enjoying being in college?
I LOVE being in college at UCLA. I am really enjoying my classes and training with a big fun team. The weather is amazing and there is so much to do and see. I haven’t really found a down side to it yet. Haha I usually wake up every morning, look out my window, and say “wow, I can’t believe I go to school here!”
Many former Olympians make gymnastics a part of their life after they retire from the sport through motivational speaking, appearances, writing books, coaching and working at gymnastics camps. Do you think you will do that?
I think gymnastics will always be apart of my life, but I am hoping to have a profession outside of the gymnastics world as well. I will always want to stay connected with gymnastics in some way though.
Do you enjoy having the younger gymnasts look up to you?
I really do enjoy little kids that look up to me. I like when a kid asks a questions and they have that “starstruck” look in their eyes because that is when I know I am really making an impact on someone. When I was little I used to do the same thing to other Olympians, and I know how much of my motivation came from them and wanting to be in their shoes. I just try to keep passing down the secrets of success because I know in a few generations those little kids will be the next Olympians.