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West Orange Times & Observer Thursday, Aug. 1, 2019 1 month ago

Nastia Liukin visits Winter Garden's Gymnastics USA

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The five-time Olympic medalist visited the Winter Garden gym to share her gymnastics experiences and give advice to up-and-coming gymnasts.
by: Danielle Hendrix Associate Editor

It’s not every day that a five-time Olympic medalist walks into your gym.

But on Sunday, July 28, Olympian Nastia Liukin was greeted with cheers and applause as she made an appearance at Gymnastics USA in Winter Garden during the gym’s Brunch with Nastia.

For each of the five years that GUSA has been part of Winter Garden, the gym’s staff has hosted a free back-to-school event for its gymnasts and members of the community. Everyone is invited in for an open gym session, complete with raffles, games, music and food trucks.

This year, however, owner and head coach Zander Arthur and his staff decided to take things up a notch. They wanted to do something special and bring some inspiration to their competitive gymnasts and the community at large. That’s when they decided to reach out to Liukin.

Liukin competed in the 2008 Olympic games and earned the all-around championship title. She also is tied with Shannon Miller for the third-highest number of world medals won by an American. 

Liukin has won nine world medals, and her Olympic medal haul includes one gold, three silver and one bronze. In 2018, she was inducted into the Gymnastics Hall of Fame.

The retired gymnast now speaks publicly, among other ventures, and uses her story to encourage young women to turn their own dreams into reality and inspire them to find their passions.

Even though she is retired from the sport now, her accomplishments continue to inspire gymnasts around the world — including those at GUSA. It’s why Arthur and his staff decided to bring her to their gym for a special Brunch with Nastia during the back-to-school event. 

The brunch included a question-and-answer session with Liukin, who spoke of her accomplishments and bestowed some advice on the dozens of young GUSA gymnasts seated in front of her.

One of the biggest things she told the gymnasts was something her father and former coach, Valeri, always told her: Even though it feels like gymnastics is everything, always remember that education is just as — if not more than — important, because it will stick with you the rest of your life. It’s also important, she said, to find your passion and run with it.

“(Gymnastics) was definitely something I loved and I had fun doing it and I had a passion for it, and I think that’s the most important thing,” Liukin said. “For all of you, no matter if it’s gymnastics or another sport, you have to find your passion. It always has to come from within.”

It’s a passion that has followed her even throughout her post-gymnastics career. No matter where she is in the world, even in Winter Garden, walking into a gym feels like home to her.

“It was so awesome,” Liukin said of visiting GUSA Winter Garden. “Everybody was just so nice and I loved being able to come out today. My competitive career was over 20 years and I feel like I learned so much throughout those years … so I just love being able to kind of share some of the things I’ve learned and hopefully pass some advice to that next generation.”

Liukin’s advice on gymnastics and life in general stuck with 12-year-old Windermere resident and rising Level Nine gymnast Lauren Hartmann, who was awestruck at being able to hear from the decorated Olympian.

“It was insane,” Lauren said of getting to see Nastia. “I remember watching her on TV and seeing how good she was. Seeing her now has really inspired me to be better on bars and beam, because I know those were her best events. I just want to be like her and do as well as she did.”

That inspiration for Lauren to apply Liukin’s words of wisdom to her budding gymnastics career is exactly what Arthur and his staff hope all their gymnasts were able to take away from the experience.

“It’s very inspirational for our gymnasts, because every day you work so hard to be a successful gymnast — hours in the gym — (and) sometimes you forget why,” he said. “So when you have an Olympic gymnast come here and they share their accomplishments … you go, ‘Wow, that’s the reason why we’re doing this, all this hard work.’ It really does pay off. It’s good to show a success story to the kids, and it’s good for us to bring that value to them in person.”

Danielle Hendrix is the Associate Editor for the West Orange Times & Observer and the Windermere Observer. She is a 2015 graduate of the University of Central Florida, from which she earned a bachelor's degree in journalism with a minor in world comparative studies. ...

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