Nastia Liukin, 22, has several gymnastics World Championship medals and an Olympic all-around gold medal from the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Although she did not qualify at the Olympic Trials to compete in this year's games, Liukin finished each routine with grace and received a final standing ovation from 18,000-plus fans. In mid-July, while promoting Fisher-Price's new Fantastic Gymnastics Dora doll, Liukin set aside some time to talk to Parents.com about how she started her gymnastics career, her new role at this year's Olympics, and her plans for the future.
You started gymnastics when you were just 2 1/2 years old. How did you get your start? Do you remember it?
Both of my parents were gymnasts -- world champions. I did start at 2 1/2 , 3 years old, but I feel like I was born with a little gymnastics in my blood and ever since I can remember, I've had such a passion for it. I really loved being in the gym, and I loved being in a leotard, being on the trampoline, playing on the bars, all those things. I think it was important for my parents that I did something I loved, but they never pushed me into the sport. They always made sure it was my decision that I wanted to do the sport.
Since both of your parents were gymnasts, did you feel like you had to live up to certain expectations?
I honestly never felt I had to live up to their expectations. I was very fortunate to have them as good role models within gymnastics and outside the sport. When I finally realized that my dad was an Olympic champion, I remember thinking, "I wanna be just like him. And I wanna be just like my mom and be a world champion." I had something to strive for, to do the things that they did.
What were some lessons your parents instilled in you at an early age, in gymnastics and in life?
A lot of the lessons they taught me for gymnastics can definitely apply to my daily life. Lessons like, always set short-term daily, weekly, and monthly goals and not just long-term goals like the Olympics. This helped me at an early age because I always knew I was striving to achieve something and check something off my list. They also taught me to always believe in myself, to never give up, and to always finish what I started. And to keep going after my dreams and goals.
What can other parents do to encourage aspiring gymnasts or athletes?
It's definitely important for parents to make sure that if a child has a spark of interest for gymnastics or another sport, they should encourage it. It's important to exercise and to have a healthy lifestyle, and gymnastics is a fun way to do that. It's good to lead kids on a sports path and make sure they maintain the passion. Parents shouldn't push too hard if it's something kids may not want to be doing.
What did you do to prepare for competition? How did you maintain a healthy lifestyle?
I learned at an early age that whatever you put in your body, you're going to get out of it. My mom always told me to treat my body like a really expensive car, so you have to put expensive fuel in it if you want to get the best results. This stuck with me, and it will stick with me for the rest of my life. Training seven hours a day, six days a week, it was very important to have the right nutrients and to make sure I was eating enough protein to have the energy to get through a long day, and drinking a lot of water made sure I stayed hydrated. I try to eat organic and natural foods and eliminate processed stuff as much as possible.
What's your favorite snack or meal?
I love sushi. I love all kinds of fish, but I love eating sushi, and because I travel so much, it's fun to go to different sushi places. As a snack, almonds are always great to put in a Ziploc bag, and apples with almond butter is another go-to snack that I love.