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Mary Lou Retton's next goals are marriage and children

 
Published Aug. 26, 1990|Updated Oct. 17, 2005

Success came early, if not easily, to Mary Lou Retton. As a 7-year-old in Fairmont, W.Va., she began gymnastics classes, and it was not long before it was apparent that her talent in that field was extraordinary. By the time she was 14, she moved to Houston to work under the guidance of Bela Karolyi, who had established a reputation as the world's best gymnastics coach.

And at the age of 16, in 1984, she was an international celebrity, having won the All Around gold medal in women's gymnastics at the Los Angeles Olympic Games _ the first American ever to win a gold in gymnastics.

But she won not only the gold; there were two silver medals for team and vault, and two bronze medals for uneven bars and floor exercise.

Along with the medals came recognition seldom accorded one so young. She was the 1984 Sports Illustrated Sportswoman of the Year; the 1984 Women's Sports Foundation Female Athlete of the Year, the 1984 Associated Press Amateur Athlete of the Year, and she became the youngest inductee into the Olympic Hall of Fame.

Mary Lou Retton soon decided that there were no more peaks for her to climb in gymnastics, and in 1986 _ at the age of 18 _ she "retired."

But her retirement was only from gymnastics. Her schedule since then has been equally demanding of her time, sending her the world over for public appearances and speaking engagements.

She has continued to live in Houston, but much of the time it has been more of a headquarters than a home. That may change soon, however. In December, Mary Lou Retton, the 4-foot-9 former gymnast, will marry Shannon Kelley, a 6-foot-2 former quarterback for the University of Texas.

"And in January, I may go back to school," she said. "I went to the university for two years, but only part time. It was difficult to keep up then even taking only one or two classes. But I definitely want to get my degree."

And motivation is something Mary Lou Retton knows about. It is the topic for most of her public speeches. Early this month she was the keynote speaker for the Empire State Games Opening Ceremonies in Syracuse, N.Y., and Thursday she spoke at U.S. Olympic Committee Hall of Fame ground-breaking ceremonies in Colorado Springs, Colo.

"If there is a theme for the meeting, I try to incorporate it into my speech," she said, "but basically I have one speech; everybody needs motivation, and if I can help somebody, it is definitely worth it."

Her career in television commercials if over, she says, as is her brief fling with the movies. She had a cameo role in a Bill Murray film, Scrooged. "It was a lot of fun," she said. ".

.

. I'm not an actress, but I couldn't turn down a movie with Bill Murray."

As for commercials, that "was fun while it lasted," she said. Now her work in that area is limited to speaking at sales meetings.

Retton said she had an opportunity to meet another Olympic gymnastics champion _ Nadia Comaneci. "We met at an AIDS benefit in Los Angeles," she said, adding that with her, as with other Olympians, there was "a kind of bond." That exists, she believes, because "we have all gone through a lot of training and sacrifice."

It was that intensive training that resulted in Retton missing out on what most people would consider a normal childhood.

But she has no regrets. "I went to the gym right after school every day and worked for four or five hours," she said. "That was normal for me. So I don't have any memories of dating or football games and all of that, but I didn't know it existed.

"Now, since retiring from sports and knowing there is life outside the gymn, it would be very difficult to go back to such a regimen," she said.

Retton says Houston probably will continue to be home after her marriage. "He's beginning a job in real estate sales, commercial and residential," she said of her 24-year-old husband-to-be, "and his family is here.

And, she adds, "three or four years down the road, we want to have children. I want four or five. I grew up in a large family and I loved it."

Retton is 22 now, and when she looks ahead and considers what she'd like to be doing at 40, she first says she hopes she'll "be a good wife and mother."

And then the sport that has dominated her life emerges once again. "Maybe I'll be coaching," she said. "I'd eventually like to get into that. I think that's the best way to give back to your sport and keep it going."