“You can do it!” and a sprained ankle were what Olympic gymnast, Kerri Strug, took with her to the mat as she landed the vault to help win Team USA’s first women’s gymnastics gold medal at the 1996 Olympics. Nothing could keep this athlete from performing to her fullest ability.
Why should you want to know more about Kerri? This courageous athlete was just 14 and the youngest Olympian at the 1992 summer Olympic Games, who went on to win a Gold medal at the 1996 summer Olympics. Since she was 6 years old, Kerri dreamed of being an Olympian and trained for 12 years to achieve this goal. During those years, she made sacrifices and even moved away from her family and friends to train with her famous coach, Bela Karolyi. Most importantly, each of those 12 years was spent working hard—drug free.
We had the privilege of interviewing Kerri (pictured right) about her journey to Olympic gold and what advice she’d give teens, athletes or not.
Sara Bellum Blog (SBB): Fill in the blank: Participating in sports makes me feel ____.
Kerri Strug: Alive. Being athletic is important because it is good for your long-term health and helps you learn life skills such as dedication, perseverance, and mental toughness.
SBB: What motivated you when you were training?
Kerri: I was motivated by the self-satisfaction I got when I set a goal and attained it.
SBB: What words of motivation can you offer teens?
Kerri: I think teens need to find a passion; set goals, and then go after them.
SBB: What did achieving your goal by winning a gold medal at the 1996 Olympics mean to you?
Kerri: After 12 long years of training and numerous sacrifices…I got what I wanted so badly. There is no better feeling than working hard for something and thinking it is not really possible; and then it becomes a reality.
SBB: Your gold medal was the product of your years of training, hard work, perseverance and passion for the sport—all drug-free. What do you think about professional athletes who have used performance-enhancing drugs?
Kerri: I think a world class athlete is not one that holds a world record; but rather one that shows courage when faced with adversity, leads by example, and puts their team in front of themselves. I do not understand where the athletes that take performance enhancing drugs are coming from. It would never occur to me to cheat or to hurt my body in order to get ahead.
SBB: What advice do you have for teens involved with sports who may feel pressure to use performance-enhancing drugs?
Kerri: Focus on yourself and your capabilities. Not everyone is going to be in the NBA or the Olympics, but being true to yourself is what will matter most for the rest of your life.
SBB: So, where do you go from winning an Olympic Gold Medal at age 18? What are you up to now? Kerri: I am still constantly setting new goals for myself—running marathons, learning to dance, giving back, and hope to one day become a terrific mother and lots of other things.
Today Kerri lives and works in Washington, D.C. In her free time, Kerri enjoys working with charities, traveling the world for special events, and cheering on young athletes as they go after their own dreams.