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Mary Lou Retton Couldn’t Play Dolls With Her Baby Daughters. Now, She’s Opening Up About the Heartbreaking Reason


As the first American woman to win a gold medal in gymnastics in 1984, physical activity was Mary Lou Retton’s entire life. But by the time she hit her early 30s, she could hardly do simple motions. Two hip replacements, a nutritious diet, and many multivitamins later, she’s living her best healthy lifestyle today in spite of her major issues. She opens up to about why she wants women everywhere to do the same for their futures.

When I was in the Olympics, we worked out all day long. It was literally eight hours every day. I lived it. I breathed it. I ate it. I slept it. Gymnastics is a very brutal sport, especially back in the 80s. Our equipment was pretty unforgiving. We would do 60 or 70 vaults a day and land on the hard surface.

And being an Olympic-level athlete, you had to rest. You had to recover. Back in the 80s, we weren’t as knowledgeable as we are today about how to fuel the body and how to take care of injuries. And I have a lot of issues today because of it.

How the pain started

It all started after I had all my babies. I’m a little person. I’m four foot nine, and having four babies just sucked my calcium out of me! I can remember being in my 30s with a household of little girls. We had Barbie dolls and baby dolls everywhere and I could literally not get down on the ground to play with them.

There was pain. Stiffness. And it really was a depressive time. My whole life was based on my physicality—what I could physically do. It was performance-based. And that went away with arthritis.

And I knew I needed some major surgeries to help me in my 30s and 40s. So I’ve had two hip replacements for it. And I’m so grateful I did. My husband was great. My little children were great. I’m okay with it today.

It was hard to get through it, though. I wasn’t ready. I was like, “That’s an old person’s disease! I don’t have arthritis!” But I do. And I still have it. It’s my journey.

How she found relief

But I am much more knowledgeable about how to take care of myself. I’m eating well. I’m a big believer in supplements and vitamins. I took them throughout my athletic career. I continue to take them now, as I am a mother of four very athletic daughters. I fill up on calcium a lot for my bones. Glucosamine for my joint health. Fish oil for my heart health. B12 for my energy.

And I give them to my active daughters and husband. One of the tips that I give to people—I put out all the supplements the night before. It’s really when I pack the lunches for the next day, I put out their vitamins in their spot at the breakfast bar, so they’re there, because I know the craziness of mornings and getting everybody out the door.

Also something for me, I get up and I start moving. Especially with my arthritis, movement alone, along with the vitamins I take for my joint health, it helps. And if I don’t do it in the morning, it doesn’t get done. Life happens and the day gets going.

But eating healthy, taking my calcium and glucosamine and movement has really helped my stiffness. So don’t just sit there. You have to get up and move if you have joint issues and arthritis. (Click through for the best joint supplements for women.)

It’s part of my commitment for the future. What I do for myself, it’s to be good to me. I want that healthy future. I don’t want to be crumbled up in a recliner or a wheelchair or in crutches or a walker. I really don’t. With four daughters, I plan on throwing four big weddings and hope I’m surrounded by a bunch of grandbabies that they’re going to give me. And I want to be well. I want to be active. I want to be able to enjoy that. And I encourage everyone else to do it.

I’m 48 now. Just because we’re getting up there in age doesn’t mean we should stop. Make it the best years of your life and plan to be selfish. Because you can actually be selfish. For most of us, our kids will be gone and living their own life. Really think about you and your physical well being. Don’t be afraid. Get out there and be active. (Click through for Denise Austin’s latest obsession: pickle ball.)

I also encourage people who are afraid to go out there and move—start a walking program. Get out and walk just a couple blocks. Next day, add a little bit more. And it’s not to lose weight, it’s to be healthy. There’s a difference.

I’ve been active my entire life. I’ve always been fitness ambassador even after I retired from competitive gymnastics. It’s important for me because it’s how I’ve lived. And I want everybody to have that healthy future like myself.

Mary Lou Retton has now joined forces with Nature’s Bounty for the “Dear Future Me” campaign, making a pledge to her commitment to future health. She encourages women everywhere to join her in her journey.

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