By Jo-Ann Barnas – Special to USA Gymnastics
This wasn’t an assignment that she was preparing for in one of her classes at UCLA. This was more personal than that. It was about her life.
Jordyn Wieber, 2011 women’s all-around World champion and a member of the 2012 U.S. Olympic gold-medal winning “Fierce Five,’’ went to great lengths to make sure that she kept everything and everyone in mind as her thoughts became words on a keyboard.
When her article titled “A New Routine" was published March 6 on The Players Tribune – on the eve of the AT&T American Cup – Wieber felt content, satisfied and, yes, fulfilled. Very much so.
In her heart and mind, she knew that retiring from competitive gymnastics was the right decision at the right time.
USA Gymnastics caught up with Wieber recently to chat about not only the past, but her future. A sophomore psychology major, Wieber – who’s from DeWitt, Mich. – is currently team manager for the Bruins women’s gymnastics team, which competes next Saturday at NCAA Regionals in Columbus, Ohio; they were runners-up to Utah at the Pac 12 Championships on March 21.
Here are excerpts from the interview:
USA Gymnastics: It has been a couple of weeks since you announced your retirement. How are you feeling now?
Wieber: I hadn’t been training for a little while now, and I felt like it was time to finally make the announcement. Obviously, the feelings are a little bittersweet. I have a passion for competing and I love the sport of gymnastics so much. But at the same time, it’s kind of nice to have a break. I don’t miss being in the gym seven hours a day. I have a little more free time right now, and I can experience new things – I can enjoy college, LA, and everything. It does feel right to me right now.
I’m finding that I have to take a lot of that time when I was in the gym and use it for academics. So I’m taking that pretty seriously, and, of course, I’m working with the UCLA team, so even though I’m not practicing in the gym, it’s so amazing to be able to be in the gym with them everyday because I don’t think my life would feel right if I wasn’t in some sort of gym. It might sound weird, but it feels right for me to be involved in gymnastics every single day.
Q. How long did it take you to write the column? And why that route for something so personal?
A. The (Players Tribune) is a great website, and my agent actually suggested that, hey, this is a really good website where you could write an article and basically say anything that you want to say. It was a good opportunity for me to announce to everyone that I’m no longer competing but at the same time to thank everyone. Looking back on my career, I’ve had so much support from everyone – not just my community, but all over. I wanted to do it in a way that I could reach out to people. I wanted to let them know this is what I got out of my experiences in gymnastics.
It took me the longest to just decide how I wanted to do it, and then I wrote a draft and then I had my mom edit with me a little bit. She helped me with the grammar-type things, but it didn’t take me too long. Over the course of it all, a couple of weeks.
Q. In your story, you talked about how you considered yourself fortunate that you had a sense of normalcy in your life, going to public high school and so forth. When you reflect now, do you think that is helping you in your transition?
A. Yes, totally. I didn’t really realize it at the time, but when I look at some of the other girls that I was competing with on the national team, they didn’t get to go to a regular high school, they didn’t get to go to proms. They didn’t get to go to football games. The fact that I did, I feel so lucky. And it made the transition going to college a little bit easier because I know how to act in a school setting. I just feel really lucky, that I’ve had the best of both worlds in so many aspects of my life, starting in high school. And I have the best of both worlds now – I get to do appearances and speak, and at the same time, I’m just a normal student at UCLA
Q. Another thing that struck me was that you wanted to make it clear that you are leaving the sport fulfilled. Your Olympic experience had lows but a lot of highs. You had the stress fracture and other things, but you wanted to make it clear that London was a happy time for you. Talk about that a little bit.
A. Everybody can agree, there were a lot of expectations that I felt and that people put on me before the Olympics. That’s just because I was the World champion the year before; I was expected to make the all-around competition and there was a lot of hype going into that. And then when I didn’t qualify, and dealing with the injury, there were a lot of emotions that were building up. That’s when all of the crying started, and I was pretty disappointed.
But what made that experience so amazing was that I was able to turn it around and compete for USA and win that gold medal with my team. And looking back, I don’t have any regrets whatsoever about my Olympic experience because I know if it had gone any differently, my life would be completely different right now. And I’m so happy with my life. I feel very lucky to have the experience that I did.
Q. What is next for you, Jordyn? You’re a sophomore at UCLA. You mentioned motivational speaking. But as far as looking forward, what’s next for you?
A. I’m majoring in psychology, and that’s something that I’ve been interested in for as long as I can remember, especially as I got older and moved up through the levels in gymnastics, I didn’t realize how much of a mental sport it is. To me, gymnastics is 80 percent mental and 20 percent physical. I’ve always been interested in the power of the mind and how you use it to perform to the best of your ability in the sport of gymnastics. I think that’s what sparked my interest in psychology. Now that I’m majoring in it, I’ve realized how much I’m really interested in it. That, combined with traveling around and talking to young girls and gymnasts, and groups of people about my Olympic experience, and sharing with them how I pushed through obstacles, how I got through hard days at the gym – that has really sparked a passion in me. Right now, I don’t know exactly what field I want to go into in psychology, but I’m exploring that and thinking of doing some internships and things like that. I’m also interested in motivational speaking because I can use my Olympic experience in that field.
Q. Did you watch the AT&T American Cup? And can you talk a little about Simone Biles and her gymnastics? Also, you have some of your Olympic teammates making a comeback. But first, about Simone.
A. I did watch the American Cup, and it’s so cool to watch Simone and see her shining in every competition. She’s an incredible gymnast. She’s so powerful. She has such high difficulty. But she’s also such a sweet girl.
And I know my other teammates, Aly (Raisman) and Gabby (Douglas), are making a comeback right now and I support them 100 percent. I’ve been talking to them here and there, just asking how training is going. I wish them all the best in trying to make a comeback. I think they’re going to do great.
When I was first making the decision of whether I wanted to retire or keep training, I did think to myself, ‘If you do see your other teammates coming back and competing, am I going to wish I was there, too?’ I wondered that, but now that I’m a few (weeks into) retirement, I really don’t have those feelings too much. When I look back on my experience, I was on the national team for seven, eight years. I did the Olympics and World Championships. I have a fulfilled career, so I don’t have any regrets or wishes that I was still competing. I’m also really enjoying life now.
Q. For kicks and giggles, do people ever ask if you can still do a beam routine, or this or that?
A. Since I’m in the gym, I sometimes get an urge to do some gymnastics every now and then, and flip around. I like the feeling of it, even going upside down. I do some flips every now and then, but I haven’t whipped out a full beam routine (laughing). But people do ask me. When I’m 40, I think I’ll still be able to do a back handspring, I bet.