August 3, 2012

Kerri Strug: Inspiring Story of Courage & Strength

I wanted to add "Hard Work" to the title too, but that might have been too long. So official title!:

Kerri Strug: Inspiring Story of Hard Work, Courage, & Strength Kerri Strug 1996

I heard about Kerri Strug from the NBC news' broadcast tonight and it was truly inspiring. Maybe you watched it too, but first they were talking about Gabby Douglas's big gold medal win (which is also really inspiring. I'm really happy for her and all the positive impacts her victory will probably have) and then they went back in time to the last time the USA Womens Oympic Gymnastics team won gold, 1996. All the old gymnasts were there, I can't name all of them from the top of my head, but they spoke of that long long time ago with happiness and a twinkle in their eyes. One of their best achievements was probably made on that massive Olympic stage and their story is truly a tale of strength and hard work. Kerri Strug was the star though because she proved herself to be beyond the expectations of others and won the gold for her team. 
When Kerri Strug was younger she wanted to be a gymnast and joined a gym run by famous coach Bela Karolyi. She worked really hard yet she lacked self confidence. The news and other people always called her nervous and shaky when under pressure. However, she still achieved much at that age and soon tried out for the Olympics Gymnastics team. To get the true feel of her achievements later though, some more information about her background is needed. Not only did she lack self confidence which she worked so hard to overcome in front of the news and audience, she also went through a painful injury. When trying to maintain her olympic high standard around 1992 (she was in the team for a few years I think before 1996) she fell off from the bars, literally flying down and fracturing two vertebrates. Luckily she recovered, but what more could this have done to her confidence level? I would be shakier than ever having gone through such pain during gymnastics. I would probably be scared to try it again. But Strug was strong and continued with her training even if it hurt at times. Her coach pushed her to her very limits, trying to help her to achieve her best. She understood this and appreciated it but it was undoubtedly hard. Another obstacle for her, mentally to overcome, was the addition of a fellow student, Dominique Moceanu. The two now adult women, former trainees together, look back at that time and admit they weren't exactly friends. They were more like competitors but that was good, they said, because they pushed each other to work harder. I quote from the news, "So began the side by side Olympic training of the talented newcomer and nervous veteran." 
Kerri was overshadowed a bit by the talent of Dominique. She admits now that she felt a little discouraged and a little irritated at the fact that she was working so hard yet she was still overshadowed by someone else because she had more talent. A little personal note here, I believe that even if someone has more talent than you, you can exceed their achievements. Practice and working hard take you much further and help you achieve much more than talent alone. Anyways, Strug still continued to just work hard and made the 1996 Summer Olympics. Strug on the beam
The USA Gymnastics team had never won gold before, not for a very long time anyway. It was always the Russians who kept that gold. They were extremely formidable competitors. But this Olympics turned out to be different from the past. The USA team started out so strongly, everyone was astonished. Soon everyone believed that the USA had a chance this time to win a medal, if not the gold. The Americans in the stands were screaming, cheering; they were so loud in fact that one of the Russian gymnasts says that that's all you could hear, Americans cheering their team on. The womens gymnast team was THAT good. They stuck their landings, got high scores; Strug had the highest score on the team at that point. Strug on uneven bars. perfection(:
Soon it was time for the last routine, the vault. USA was definitely in the running for the gold, everyone knew it and no one thought it would be much trouble to finally achieve it. The girls just had to do at least ONE perfect vault and everyone thought that this would be effortless; the team had been doing so well. Besides, they had so many chances what with so many girls. However, when it fell to the last two girls on whom it depended on to achieve that perfect vault, imperfection finally struck. These two girls were Strug and Dominique Moceanu from their home gym. The talented young girl, Dominique, who was Strug's competitor and comrade, slipped on her landing. As they look back at that time now, the two girls say they think it was because of the matting. They were not used to it since it was different from the ones they had been using and their coach could not explain this to the people who were setting up since he had to stay in the stands on the sidelines. Strug injured :(
Each gymnast had two tries each to get the perfect vault (rules must have been different then). But Dominique, she slipped, BOTH times. All pressure fell on Kerri Strug's shoulders, and everyone knew she did not do well under pressure. But she persevered, prepped herself and took the running start. Everyone held their breath as she launched herself into the air and spun....only to slip on her landing. USA's probable dream to finally win gold at the olympics was crashing down. Kerri was their only hope but already on her first try she had failed. But another tragedy. As she slipped on her first landing, Kerri had hurt her ankle and it showed as she limped back to the start of the vault where she would try her second run. Bela, her coach, was yelling on the sidelines, "Shake it off! You can do it! You can do it! You know you can do it!!" And Strug, having had all those tough times in the gym with Bela pushing her, remembered the hard times when she was hurt and tired yet he still pushed her to become her best. It was Strug's coach, who pushed her for her benefit, who was saying she could do it and Kerri finally believed him. Even with her injured ankle she looked at the vault with a new sort of strength, courage, confidence. She took her running start, sprung sideways, pushed off, flipped, spun, turned, and....SHE STUCK THE LANDING!! SHE STUCK THE LANDING!! What's even more amazing is that she succeeded landing on only ONE leg. ONE LEG. She did it as her coach believed she could and she, she herself believed she could. USA HAD WON GOLD!!!! But it was a bittersweet victory. Kerri's ankle was injured so badly, she needed help coming off from the platform. The pain was great she said, but with her coach there and her achievement, it was slightly bearable. However, as she stood there on that platform, with bandages around her ankle, receiving her gold medal, she could not smile widely as she dreamed she would. She knew, Kerri knew, that she would not be able to compete again. Sacrifice was needed at these games, it was the Olympics, and at the spur of the moment, anything could happen. She had torn two ligaments in her ankle and she wouldn't be able to compete in gymnastics ever again. It was over for her. Strug being helped by Moceanu and other teammates
But now she's a legend! A truly inspiring legend with a motivational story. And the end of her gymnastic story went out with a bang! Once a girl known for her nervousness and her lack of self-confidence, Kerri had shown the WORLD that she was different from that. She proved them and even herself wrong. Kerri Strug was strong and confident. She could achieve what others couldn't, even under immense pressure and injuries. Her final stage was the beginning of her new confidence and belief in herself. After her entire career, this moment, this bittersweet moment, was when she finally proved the world wrong about how truly strong and courageous she was. Strug with Coach Bela
This is seriously inspiring. I just love how at the very end, her final achievement made her a legend. Nothing that happened before mattered, she proved it all wrong. She was now the great gymnast who helped, with her courage and strength, the USA team to finally win gold. She did this in the Olympics! That is so much pressure what with all the world watching. I don't know how she did it, but that self belief and confidence she finally found in herself I think she had it in her the entire time. She just needed help bringing it out. Her coach helped her do that and even the sheer pressure of the moment helped her to bring her innermost strength out. It was definitely a moment that changed her life :)

What I will remember about Kerri Strug's story, it is just so inspiring, is to always work hard because you can't rely on talent alone. Practice is equally, if not more important than talent, and that valuable practice is probably what you will have to rely upon to achieve your dreams and goals. Also, other's expectations do not make who you are. You make mistakes, everyone does. And just because you make that mistake one time, a couple times, a lot of ties, that doesn't mean you can't do better. What other people think about you, you can change that. You just gotta prove that wrong with all you have and you have to believe in yourself. Finally, trust your coach, teacher, any leading/guiding figure in your life. They know what they're doing and they love you. They're trying to bring the best out of you and they know you can't push yourself to your best. You need a coach or teacher for that. So listen to your coach/teacher and believe that they know what to do the best and they have the best intentions at heart, even if they push you to no end.

I hope you found this story as inspiring as I did. When I was listening to it on the news I was literally getting goosebumps and tearing up. Kerri Strug's journey is amazing.

Well, it's late and I should probably go to bed. Thanks for reading my post and thoughts though!! Watch the Olympics! Gymnastics may be over but all the athletes work so hard to be on that stage and each of their journeys and hardships is inspiring and full of strength, courage, and hard work. LET'S GO TEAM USA (&South Korea!!)!!! The Magnificent Seven: Amanda Borden, Dominique Dawes, Amy Chow, Jaycie Phelps, Dominique Moceanu, Kerry Strug, and Shannon Miller. I love how this is so multi-racial...and this was 1996! And Strug said in the interview was that she was worried because she's be the only one not wearing pants! And this was in front of the whole world!! But she's fine, she was the star anyway ;)

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