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Flipping Success

MyKayla's Journey Beyond the Vault

Article by Shelby Underwood

Photography by Yasmine Carmen Photography

Originally published in Gilbert City Lifestyle

As she steps into her home gym, the young athletes pause their training, turning to recognize the Olympian. She's not just a champion but a real-life example of their biggest dreams coming true.

"It's always fun to kind of re-live those memories. Walking in the gym and just being with the girls and watching these girls try to do the same thing that I did, leaving that legacy here."

Entering the gym looks a little different these days for MyKayla as she embarks on a new chapter in life: motherhood. McKayla and her husband Jonas welcomed their daughter Charlotte "Lottie" ten months ago.

Gilbert City Lifestyle had the opportunity to sit down and reminisce on her path as an Olympic athlete and the experiences that brought her to this point in her life as a role model.

McKayla had an Olympic dream as a young girl but didn't know how it worked or what it would take to get there. At age 12, she entered the Desert Lights elite program, a level of training only offered at specific gyms.

Her dedication, hard work, and positive, never-quit mindset continue to shine through as she reflects on achieving her Olympic dream.

"Being able to inspire those girls every day and having them watch me train, thick and thin, every single day – it was exhausting. I don't know how I pushed through it, but I found the grit and worked hard every day to achieve my dreams."

Training required seven hours per day. Even at the collegiate level, where the scoring system is based on perfection and not difficulty in routines, McKayla continued to challenge herself by executing more difficult skills.

"That's one reason I feel like I really stood out well in college, and people enjoyed watching because I brought the big skills."

She is very transparent about the challenges she faced on the road to her Olympic dream.

It was devastating when Mikayla didn't make it to the individual events. Because of the two-per-country rule, limiting the number of gymnasts from each country to go on to compete in individual finals (to prevent one country from dominating a field), she didn't qualify for vault finals. She had ranked third for the U.S.

She wanted her moment so badly but was also so proud to compete.

"It just hit me hard because I knew I was retiring after the Olympics. This is my last meeting ever, and that's not how I wanted to go out. But I just changed my mindset right then and there and was like, 'I've got to be here for my team, I've got to do this for me, it's not over 'til it's over.' I went out and hit bars and beams and had the best meet of my life. Even though I didn't get to go in for individual events, I did that. I accomplished something that I wanted so bad as a little girl."

But it wasn't over. After Simone Biles withdrew, MyKayla had one more chance and was given the opportunity to compete in the vault finals. She needed to mentally shift, get back into training mode, and compete. She was grateful for one last chance, and she made the absolute most of it. MyKayla brought home the silver medal.  

"It was so rewarding, even thinking that I accomplished something like that," she recalls.

Sports history tells us legends are made by one moment, one opportunity. Without a doubt, preparation allowed her to be ready for the chance, and MyKayla took it.  

She remains the only gymnast from her gym, Desert Lights, to have competed on the Olympic stage, but she hopes that changes in the future and that her story continues to inspire others to never give up.

"Being that role model to so many girls in the world to never give up was like my motto through my whole journey because I had so many ups and downs, never made it, never made it, and I still kept going anyway and persevered and pushed through it and was able to make my dreams come true. So by never giving up, I got there, and that's just been my big thing, which is helping other girls and athletes in the world to achieve that too."

McKayla continues to inspire by being involved in camps and public speaking engagements and influencing social media platforms and her YouTube channel. 

In her downtime, she and her husband love a good date night, going to the movies and enjoying dinner at all the different restaurants in Downtown Gilbert (followed by a prickly pear with lime soft-serve ice cream from Topo).  

She's been having fun transitioning into her new role as a mom and experiencing moments she wasn't always able to be a part of while so committed to gymnastics, like vacations and family birthdays.

When asked what she would tell her younger self, she said she knew a five-year-old with an Olympic dream would be so proud. 

"I wanted to quit so many times, but honestly, I just think I tell myself I am just so proud of you for sticking with it…you pushed and persevered…you stuck to your beliefs, and you just stuck to your training and your process, and you trusted your coaches, and you got where you needed to be. And it was all worth it."

It's always fun to kind of re-live those memories. Walking in the gym and just being with the girls"