Roller Coaster Career
Soon after her Olympic triumphs, McKayla saw her career plagued by a series of setbacks both professionally and personally. She has made headlines for the wrong reasons. But has she picked herself up and moved on with her life?
Let’s start at the very beginning – December 9, 1995, to be precise. This was the date that McKayla Maroney was born to parents Mike and Erin. Both her parents also had roots in sport. Her father played football as a quarterback at Purdue University, while her mother was a figure skater and took part in a variety of sports at high school. From as early as she could remember, McKayla wanted to be a gymnast and was homeschooled so she could train as much as possible.
McKayla can recall playing with her siblings Tarynn and Kav and how their shared monkey antics were the early inspiration for her desire to be a gymnast. “When I was younger,” she said, “I would be watching Tarzan and running around on all fours. My mom was like, ‘I need to put this child in gymnastics. She’s crazy.’ I was technically in gymnastics at the age of 2 and always felt comfortable in the gym.” But she could never anticipate how far the dream would go…
At nine years of age, McKayla started to engage in some serious training, she joined Gym-Max in Costa Mesa, California, and quickly rose to the top of her classes. Looking back on her early years, she said, “I realized that I had a dream that I wanted to go to the Olympics and I wanted to go as far as I could go. I thought I should probably move to a new gym and start thinking about the Olympics.”
First Olympic Memory
McKayla could even recall her first Olympic memory: “I remember watching Carly Patterson. She was one of my favorites. I loved her floor routine. I went to Olympic Trials that year (2004) with Kyla [Ross].” Patterson was the all-around champion at the 2004 Olympics and in light of her heroics, was inducted into the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame. It’s former gymnasts like Patterson who were the perfect role models for McKayla growing up. But there was more to her early memory…
It Runs Deeper
There was so much more than just the sheer admiration of her childhood hero: “I remember seeing the gymnasts on the floor and I loved all of their leotards. I thought they were so little and so amazing,” she said. “‘How am I going to stay this little?’ I was worried that I was going to be really tall because my dad is 6’3″ and my mom is 5’2″, so I didn’t know which one I was going to be.”
First Signs Of Greatness
Her first major competition came in 2009, when she took part in the Visa Championships in Dallas, Texas. Amazingly, at just 13 years of age, McKayla came third in the vault final and it was a sure sign of things to come. Upon her first Amanar, she said, “I was just really little and I didn’t really know what was going on. But I just did it, and I was just very happy that I landed on my feet.”
Getting Better All The Time
For a second year running, McKayla competed in the Visa Championships, this time in Hartford, Connecticut. But this time, she bettered her result from the previous year. The little gymnast came third in her all-around competition and then in the finals, she finished first on the vault, seventh on the balance beam and fourth on the floor. It was all looking great for McKayla, as she was improving with every competition. Before she knew it, she was competing abroad…
Later on that year, McKayla competed in the Pan American Championships, which took place in Guadalajara, Mexico. Her terrific efforts on the vault, balance beam and floor contributed heavily towards team America’s first-place triumph. And in the finals, she was the individual star with a first-place finish on the vault and floor, respectively. It was becoming clearer with every tournament that McKayla was growing into one of the strongest gymnasts the U.S. had seen in a very long time.
The next year, in 2011, McKayla traveled across the Atlantic to compete in the City of Jesolo Trophy in Italy. By this stage, it should be unsurprising that because she was already a seasoned gymnast at her level, she excelled and won the all-around competition. Later on that year, she also competed in the Visa Championships for the third time running, this time in Saint Paul, Minnesota. And this time, she came second in the all-around and had a terrific final.
Land Of The Rising Star
McKayla’s fortunes didn’t seem to be letting up in 2011 when she flew to the Far East. She took part in the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Tokyo, Japan and once again, her amazing performance played a huge part in the U.S. winning the gold. When asked about the secret behind her success, she said, “for every competition, I just went in there with confidence in myself and in my team, and each day it felt like I gained more and more experience.”
A Team Effort
McKayla was right to have faith in her team, as they quickly became the most talked about group of young women in the world of sport. Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Kyla Ross, Jordyn Wieber and McKayla were a formidable team of five and were referred to early on as the Fab Five. During this successful period, everything the Fab Five seemed to touch turned to gold. And it was perfect timing, as the Olympics was just around the corner…
Fab Turned Fierce
However, McKayla and Jordyn decided that they needed to slightly tweak the name. While they were on their way to a training session, they realized that the name “Fab Five” was already connected to The University of Michigan’s basketball team as well as the pop group Duran Duran. So the girls whipped out their phones and searched for words that started with “F.” They were torn between fierce and feisty, but they ultimately went with the former.
The name change didn’t seem to do any harm to the team’s fortunes when the London Olympics came around in 2012. The Fierce Five won the gold and McKayla was a big reason for the team’s victory, scoring an average of 9.733. Overall, she was so proud of her team, saying, “I just wanted them to do so well and I’m just so proud of them…That last event on floor was really exhilarating, but amazing at the same time. I don’t think I will ever, ever forget that.”
Then, in the vault final, McKayla won a respectable silver for her individual performance. However, she would be heartbroken from the manner in which she won. In her second attempt at performing an Amanar, she fell and was left stranded on the floor, devastated. Tragically, the fall ended a 33-vault streak in major competitions. Despite winning gold with her team and getting silver, McKayla saw it as a missed opportunity. She knew she had the gold in her sights.
Honest & Humble
But McKayla was fully accountable for her error. “I’ll have to watch the video and figure out what happened,” she said. “It’s really sad that I had to fall on that vault but I’m glad I won a silver medal. I know I can do better vaults but I also know I didn’t deserve the gold medal because I fell on my second vault. It happens. It’s gymnastics. You can’t always be perfect. Sometimes things don’t go as planned.”
The Game Changer
They say that no one remembers second place. But amazingly, all it took was one mannerism from McKayla to break that rule and completely change her life forever. After her personal disappointment at the Olympics, an image of her on the podium with her lips pouted to one side took the world of social media by storm. A Tumblr blog by the name of “McKayla is not impressed” posted the image online and overnight, the gymnast was a viral sensation.
As a result of the image’s popularity, millions of people re-posted the image and even edited it to create hilarious memes. To make the quote “McKayla is not impressed” even more ironic and iconic, users cropped her out of the photo and placed her on a variety of “impressive” locations and scenarios. Some of the classic examples included her looking unimpressed on the Great Wall of China. Another showed her looking unimpressed as Usain Bolt glided into first place.
The chances were that McKayla felt somewhat embarrassed after being the center of attention for the wrong reasons. But ultimately, she claimed to find the meme “kinda funny.” Like a true pro, she didn’t take the situation too seriously and poked fun at herself when she made appearances on a variety of shows such as The Late Show with David Letterman, The Colbert Report and Dancing with the Stars. This clear sign of humility only made the public love McKayle even more.
Obama’s Not Impressed
The hilarious meme caught the attention of practically everyone and even found its way to the White House. In late 2012, McKayla, along with the Fierce Five, was invited to meet with former President Barack Obama. Hilariously, Obama was starstruck to have an internet sensation in the Oval Office and was desperate to have a photo with her. Needless to say, McKayla did not turn down the opportunity and the pair performed the unimpressed pose together. The photo also went viral.
While the Olympic buzz came to an end, but McKayla wanted to take her gymnastics career onwards and upwards. But it seemed like luck had run out for her. In September 2012, just a couple of months after the games, she injured herself during a champions tour in California. Scans showed that she fractured her left tibia, which forced her to have screws inserted into her legs and to wear an immobilizer. She rejoined the tour, but only as a supporter.
2013 arrived and McKayla was ready to return to the vault. She was determined to make a full recovery from her injury and get back to full fitness. Eventually, she earned her place on the U.S. team that competed in the 2013 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Antwerp, Belgium. Alongside her Fierce Five teammate Kyla, she was an all-around competitor. Then, in the most triumphant of fashions, McKayla won the gold in the vault final. It was the ultimate comeback.
Not only did she win the gold, she made history in the process. McKayla became the first American woman ever to defend her world title on the vault. It was a monumental occasion for a gymnast who only a year ago believed that she would have to retire at the age of 18. With a score of 15.724, McKayla had beaten all the odds. Ever since she fell in London, she was looking for that moment of redemption. And here it was.
Ever since McKayla’s heroics in London, everyone seems to have wanted a piece of her. And in January 2013, she served as one of the judges for the 86th Miss America pageant. She judged alongside celebrities such as dancer Cheryl Burke, TV personality Mary Hart and Miss America of the 2009 pageant, Katie Stam Irk. After being judged by others throughout her entire gymnastics career, the organizers of Miss America believed that McKayla was the best candidate for the job.
Little Rock Star
McKayla has even had a chance to work with one of the biggest names in rock music today, Thirty Seconds To Mars. In 2013, the gymnast got the opportunity to star in Jared Leto’s band’s music video for their hit single, “Up In The Air.” The video is a montage of many fast, symbolic shots, with McKayla appearing throughout. She worked with burlesque dancer Dita Von Teese and even her Fierce Five teammate Jordyn Wieber joined in on the video.
The little gymnast’s 2013 just got better and better, especially after signing a deal with major sports brand Adidas. It made sense that McKayla would eventually receive lucrative endorsements. In an interview on the company’s website, she explained why she is an ideal ambassador for the sports apparel. “I’ve worked so hard to achieve my dreams because I truly love it. I’ve learned in life to do what you love and what makes you happy – it will always be worth it.”
It appears that this gymnast has many strings to her bow and acting seems to be one of them. McKayla tried her luck in a string of TV shows and even had a recurring role in the show Hart of Dixie. She starred alongside Rachel Bilson as Rose and starred in six episodes. But that wasn’t all. She also made an appearance on an episode of the crime drama Bones and starred as herself in America Ferrera’s sitcom Superstore.
Once again, McKayla’s story would take a tragic turn. In 2016, GymCastic, the popular gymnastics podcast released an interview with McKayla as she discussed her fight with injuries even since her Olympic endeavors in London. She had been struggling with her fitness for the good part of four years and as a result, she announced her retirement from gymnastics. The announcement came just two days after her Fierce Five teammate Kyla Ross also announced her retirement from the sport.
Following her retirement, McKayla caused a stir on social media, this time for the wrong reasons. In May 2017, she posted a suggestive video on her Instagram account. However, she confirmed that her account had not been hacked and that it was her decision to post the video. Many criticized her who originally saw her as a role model for young aspiring gymnasts. Later on Twitter, McKayla hit back by saying that she never wanted to come across as a role model in the first place.
Stepping Into Tomorrow
Despite her career setbacks and recent controversies, McKayla has little regrets with how she has approached her life so far and is only looking in one direction – forward. She already has big plans of where she wants to go next. “I really want to act and sing later in my life so I’ve been taking those kinds of classes,” she said. “I have lots of different goals and dreams – winning the Olympics was just one of them.”