Former Olympic gymnast Mary Lou Retton takes on new role

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Coffee With: Mary Lou Retton

Remember Mary Lou Retton – the gymnast known as 'America's Sweetheart' from the 1984 Olympics? Well, she hasn't drifted too far from where she spent the majority of her time 32 years ago.

LA Olympics Memorable MomentsPhoto: AP

But now, she's taken on a new role: gymnastics mom.

The first American to win the all-around Olympic title in 1984 now has four daughters – three of which are gymnasts. But they didn't take on the sport just because of their legendary mother. In fact, she says she never put any kind of pressure on her daughters to get involved with gymnastics.

"I was almost over-sensitive to the idea. I was like, 'Are you sure, girls?'"

It must have been genetics. At least, she joked about the possibility since three of her girls fell into the sport so naturally.

Retton's oldest daughter, 21-year-old Shayla Kelley, is a member of the acrobatics and tumbling team at Baylor University. McKenna Kelley, 19, is a gymnast at LSU. Then comes 15-year-old Skyla Kelley, a competitive cheerleader. Thirteen-year-old Emma Kelley, Retton's youngest daughter, currently competes at Level 10 gymnastics – only one difficulty level below elite.

One would think that calling the pioneer of gymnastics "mom" would be advantageous – maybe even bragging rights of sorts. But not for Retton's girls.

"They are not impressed. I'm just 'Joe Schmoe' mom."

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When McKenna was six years old, she was practicing tumbling passes in the front yard. Retton is careful not to coach her daughters, but said 'McKenna that's so great!' and trailed the compliment with a slight suggestion.

"She looked at me with this little cocky look and said 'what do you know?'"

Five gold medals, an all-around title and a legacy later, Retton laughs about her daughters comment.

"I'm just supportive, obnoxious mom," Retton said. "When asked, I will give advice, but otherwise I'm just the shoulder to cry on and the mom to praise them up."

Retton lauds her girls as better gymnasts then she was 30-plus years ago. Of course, she noted the sport has changed a lot since then. But Retton was the greatest of her time – winning five medals and setting the precedent for gymnasts to come.

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Since her all-around gold medal, seven gymnasts in Olympic games have proceeded to win in the all-around category. Some of the best gymnasts in the world come from the United States now, but Retton said the 2016 team was the best she's ever seen.

"We're so good, we could've sent three teams and won gold, silver and bronze," she said. "It's obnoxiously crazy how good we are against the rest of the world."

Since her own career, she's maintained a healthy lifestyle – one that, in turn, has benefitted her gymnast-filled family. She recently joined forces with Nature's Bounty for the "Dear Future Me" campaign to help others commit to a healthier future lifestyle like her own.

"I want to encourage people to think about their mental, emotional and spiritual self," Retton said. "Life is really about balance. It really is about having that healthy future."

USA-SPORT/Photo: Reuters

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