Not long after seeing my first hero Nadia Comaneci win the Olympics, I enrolled in a gymnastics class myself. I made great progress, and eventually my babysitter invited me to join her high school team in an exhibition event.
Being so young, I somehow didn’t know that I was “supposed” to be nervous. I was just focused on being like Nadia. I was performing with a bunch of girls easily ten years older than me, and I was in an auditorium full of spectators, and all I could think about was being Nadia.
That focus took away all the pressure, and my performance that evening received the lion’s share of the applause—though I’m sure the pigtails and freckles didn’t hurt. Little did I know that my idol shared a similar experience several months earlier, when her focus helped her make history….
(Story excerpt from When Turtles Fly: Secrets of Successful People Who Know How to Stick Their Necks Out)
I never realized that I was going to make history.
I started gymnastics because I had way too much energy and my mom was sick of me breaking the springs on the couch when I launched myself from cushion to cushion. She was relieved when a neighbor suggested a place to try gymnastics. So at the age of six and a half, I was taught my first cartwheel.
It took me a few years to realize that I could be a successful gymnast. I loved learning new things and I loved the competition. But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that I also loved the coaches’ attention. They would tell me, “Nadia, you pick things up so quickly” or “Nadia, great balance beam routine.” The encouragement made me want it even more.
There came a period where I couldn’t see my life without the gymnasium in it. Every thought was focused on the gym. And soon I had expectations of this big event everyone was talking about—the Olympics. I was first introduced to the games in 1972, by way of an eighteen inch, black-and-white television with a fuzzy screen. I imagined the Olympics was just another competition, but with a lot more people participating and a lot more watching.