In the late 1990’s I was part of a mentoring program USA Gymnastics had begun for the Women’s National Team. Former US National Team members dating as far back as the Olympic Teams from the 1960’s, gathered together to kick off the program’s inaugural year. During our time, a few people were asked to tell about their gymnastics experience. I was the only African-American in the room and was asked to share as well. So, I told them about my career and the struggles I faced, which were quite different from what the others had experienced.
Upon hearing of the very different background I had come from, the entire room stared at me in disbelief. Each of these former elite gymnasts had worked endlessly to acquire the status of US National Team Member, but they all agreed that they could not imagine having to withstand the pressures of the sport and the types of pressures I had to face outside the gym. Sharon Shapiro, former UCLA gymnast and fellow Hall of Fame Inductee sat me down and told me, “You really need to write a book.” She also offered to help me any way she could. Sharon’s encouragement was enough to get me started.
In 2001, I was asked to speak at the Ft. Lauderdale Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast. John Tesh was the keynote speaker and my assignment was to briefly share, how I became a Christian and how my life was changed as a result. For days, as I prepared for my talk I sat with pen in hand, scribbling out thoughts that ended up crumpled in the wastebasket.
Then one night I woke up around 2:00 a.m. with various scenes from my early life racing through my mind. As I searched, in the dark, for a pen and paper, it dawned on me how some of my childhood experiences had a negative impact on my current view of self. Thankfully, it was my relationship with God that had given me a new perspective on life and I was able to thrive instead of just survive. This ended up becoming the core of the message I would be sharing at the Breakfast.
Though I felt it was not at all spectacular, the response to my five-minute life story was overwhelming. God used this brief narrative of my changed life, to stir the hearts of some 2,000 people who were not even involved in gymnastics. Following the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast, I began receiving requests to speak at various events around the city. The guests at these events always felt encouraged by my story and many times they would approach me afterwards and ask where they could buy my book. For several years, I watched them walk away disappointed, because they were eager to read the rest of the story, but it had not been written yet. However, with consistent prodding and support from my husband, I’m happy to say that the rest of the story is now in print. It took quite a bit of time and effort, but it has been well worth it.
It is my desire that my story will encourage and inspire everyone who reads it, to persevere through pain so they can realize their God-given purpose.