Many, maybe most of you either weren’t born or were too young to remember the 1984 Olympics held in Los Angeles. There were many great American athlete performances, but the one that captured our nation was Mary Lou Retton, the young 16-year-old from Fairmont, West Virginia who became the first American woman to win the gold medal in Gymnastics All-Around competition.
Retton was locked in a close battle with Romanian Ecaterina Szabo. With two events to go, Retton trailed Szabo by .15 of a point. She then scored a 10 on the floor exercise but still trailed Szabo by .05 points. Mary Lou had to score a perfect 10 on the vault to win the gold medal.
I watched her run down the runway with a look of determination I had never seen close up on an athlete. She leaped in the air and came down perfectly to become the first American woman ever to win the gold medal in the Gymnastics All-Around competition. It was an unbelievable moment. After her first perfect vault, she did it a second time.
Her achievement and the 1980 US Hockey team featured in the movie “Miracle” are two of the most inspiring sports achievements I have ever watched. If you have never seen it, watch the video below, and think about the moment and the pressure the young 16-year-old faced.
Mary Lou Retton’s quest for the gold medal started many years before the event. She dreamed for many years about that moment in history in Los Angeles. On an old HBO show about her, there was a film of her tumbling at age 7.
She worked endlessly to achieve her goal. In fact, she worked so hard that just six weeks before the competition she tore the cartilage in her knee and had to have surgery. No one thought she would be able to rehab in time to compete. But, reportedly she told her doctors:
I’ve made it this far, no one’s going to keep me from trying.
Mary Lou rehabilitated her knee in a short period of time and prepared earnestly for the victory she had dreamed about many years before. After the Olympics, Time Magazine reported that the night before the finals, Mary Lou Retton lay in her bed visualizing and dreaming about the perfect performances she would have the next night to win the gold medal. Later, Mary Lou Retton said:
Each of us has a fire in our hearts for something. It’s our goal in life to find it and to keep it lit.
If you are interested, you can read more about her story: ‘Meeting challenges’ won Retton Olympic gold, she tells Judson crowd.
Many young lawyers I mentored, coached or met are incredibly bright and talented. They have the fire in their hearts for something. Yet, many have not taken the time to figure out what it is. Take the time. You will be enriched by the experience.