Nastia Liukin: Olympic Gold Medalist With A Heart Of Gold
CALPAK has the pleasure of traveling with inspiring women all over the world through our products and sometimes, we get to chat with them about the amazing moves they’re making. We sat down with Nastia Liukin who needs no introduction because, *cough, cough* she's an OLYMPIC GOLD MEDALIST. We're not freaking out. You're freaking out. Here’s the intro anyway: Nastia Liukin is a Russian-born, Olympic prodigy, the 2008 Olympic individual all around champion, the 2005 and 2007 world champion on the balance beam, the 2005 world champion on the uneven bars, and we can go on for days about everything she's accomplished and then some. If that's not enough, she and her fiancé, Matt Lombardi, a former National Hockey pro, are focusing their efforts on an exciting app called Grander. Nastia had us feeling empowered and reminded us that you don't always have to be the best, so long as you're passionate about what you love to do.
Natural Born Olympian
Nastia was born in Russia and since her parents were Olympians themselves, she was always around gymnastics. Surprisingly, they had no desire in having her pursue gymnastics, but they just couldn't ignore the talent and passion she had for it. Her dad became her coach starting at just five years old and from that moment on, Nastia knew that she would do anything to compete in the Olympics one day -- including a rigorous training of 7 or more hours a day / 6 days a week. Prior to the Olympic games, she was the favorite going in but unfortunately had an injury the year before and just like that, everyone counted her out and slowly turned their backs on her.
"Everyone kept saying I was too old and too injured. There's a lot of girls better than her and it goes on and on. That taught me a lot of things. First of all, rely on the people who actually care about you and support you, not just during the times that you're winning a gold medal, but also the times when you're not. Also, to actually believe in the power of my own dreams and my own goals and to not worry about what other people were telling me. So, I ended up getting onto the Olympic team anyways and won the Olympic gold medal in the all around."
Exactly 20 years prior to that moment, during the 1988 games, her father had won two gold medals and two silver medals. For the all around, he missed the gold medal by .001 so when she was awarded her gold, she knew she was not only making America proud, but most importantly, her father. What a feeling.
Dust Yourself Off and Try Again
Years later, everyone had huge expectations for her to be the best at the Olympic trials on her best event, the uneven bars, until a wakeup call welcomed her instead.
"I fell flat on my face. I remember laying there, face first on the mat thinking well, my dreams of making that second olympic team are over. Then I became super embarrassed and mortified because I just fell on my face in front of 20,000 people there in the stadium and millions watching on NBC. What do I do now? You only have 30 seconds to get back up on the bar unless you get a zero. My dad just wanted to make sure I was okay first and said I didn’t have to finish but I said, "No, you always told me that no matter what, you have to finish what you’ve started". And so I got back up, finished my routine, knowing I wasn’t making an Olympic team and for the first time in my life and career, I had a standing ovation for the worst routine of my life and career. So that became the defining moment where I realized that life isn’t always about being the best, having gold medals, having the highest salary, having the best job but it’s about finding something that you love to do and your true passion for that journey."
The "Aha" Moment
That unforgettable experience eventually led to her lifelong dream of helping young female athletes reach their goals in sports on another level through her app, Grander. She and her fiancé will eventually be expanding the app to not just gymnastics, but figure skating, swimming, soccer, basketball, etc. Because of her tight relationships with athletes in various sports, they're looking forward to being a part of this platform to help young athletes achieve their goals. She remembers being their age once and looking up to other professional athletes and wishing there was a way to pick their brains and hear about their resilience in their sport.
"It's a global community to inspire the next generation of female athletes by connecting them to their mentors. It’s a platform where there’s a community feed and a mentor feed so myself and my other Olympic teammates and other industry specialists like nutritionists, sports psychologists, college recruiting are on there. We’re starting in gymnastics but are going to expand in all sports, focusing on women because statistics show that women in sports are so underserved compared to all men’s sports, especially in a time like today — it’s just so important to be able to mentor and provide these young girls with great, valuable content; educational content and inspirational content."
Being Well-Rounded, All Around the World
Nastia is living that bi-coastal life, bouncing around from California to Texas to Boston and is constantly traveling for work and leisure. Because of this, she's able to adapt to her surroundings while expanding her resources and meeting young athletes from all over the world.
"Traveling has provided an even greater opportunity because I'm in so many different cities that I can reach more people and yes, you can do that digitally but there’s still something about that physical connection you get in person, which I think so many people now have steered away from because it’s so much easier on social media. I think that connection is super important. I spend most of my summers traveling whether it’s at summer camps, clinics, appearances or our events that we put on through Grander. Yes, it’s an app, but we wanted to make sure that it’s this full cycle of having an experience through your phone but also you get to go to a real live event, where you get to actually meet the mentors and talk to them and hear from them. But that’s not enough. You have to continue to get that inspiration so then you go back to the Grander app. A true 360 view."
If you could tell your 15-year-old self one thing, what would it be?
Pause and live in the moment. Especially at 15, I wanted to be 16 and at 16, I wanted to be 18 and then at 18, I wanted to be 21 and then I couldn’t wait to graduate college. My whole world used to live in these 4 year increments which are the Olympic cycles every 4 years. I’m working on living in the moment, not planning too much and taking a second to enjoy life and enjoy the day.
Davis - Carry-On - Ivory