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Kerri Strug on the Magnificent Seven: 'Gymnastics Always Brings Us Back Together'

Wonderwall, Friday, September 16, 2011, 2:56pm (PDT)
  • It's hard to forget that moment in the 1996 Summer Olympic games when the girl with the pixie cut 'do -- aka Kerri Strug -- landed a perfect vault on one foot. Fifteen years later, Strug is still making an impact on people's lives, but in a different way. The athlete has teamed up with Gene Spotlight to help raise awareness and money to find cures for rare medical disorders. Wonderwall caught up with Strug, who talked about giving back, the Olympics and what's happening with some of the other girls from the Magnificent Seven.

    Wonderwall: How did you get involved with Gene Spotlight?

    KS: I was fortunate that I found Gene Spotlight. I thought it was a really great opportunity. Due to the Olympics, I have the ability to have a voice and give organizations some publicity. For me this is interesting, because they are dealing with very rare genetic disorders. Oftentimes it's not affecting everyone, so people aren't as aware of other illness going on. I want to let people know that there is an organization that's working on amazing things to get better treatments and cure for these genetic disorders.

    WW: What are you going to be doing with Gene Spotlight?

    KS: They're going to have various events where you can get involved or help with auction items. Really I just want to have a voice and try to get people involved and understand that yes, maybe your mom or family has ties to cancer, or maybe you know someone that has a heart disease, but also there are a lot of other things out there. And if we get the medical research behind it, it can help a lot of people as well. We never know what is going to affect you. Every day there are different diseases coming about that people are not even aware they have, and so obviously, the better science we have, the better everyone is going to be.

    WW: What kind of events and celebs work with Gene Spotlight?

    KS:For this year's Fashion's Night Out, the diamond jewelry experts De Beers hosted an event at Bal Harbour Shops (near Miami, Fla.) partnering for the second year in a row with Gene Spotlight for the South Florida launch of the gorgeous silk-bound book De Beers Jewellery. Other companies and celebrities that support Gene Spotlight include country superstar Keith Urban, Danny and Russell Simmons, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Van Cleef and Arpels, the Florida Marlins, the owner of the Florida Panthers hockey team, Ann Taylor, Elie Tahari and the art gallery Wonderful World of Animation. Including myself, the other "Celebrity Ambassadors" of Gene Spotlight are NBA's Etan Thomas on the Atlanta Hawks, and MLB's Mark DeRosa on the San Francisco Giants.

  • WW: What has life been like since the Olympics?

    KS: I got married in April of 2010, so it's been about a year-and-a-half almost. It's been a lot of fun, and eventually I would like to have a family. I've been working in the Department of Justice in the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention since 2005, and I love my work there. Much like being involved in various organizations on the side, it's nice to have a job that I am passionate about that I think I am making a difference. We monitor grants and cooperative agreements, so federal dollars that go out to nonprofits in the states that assist youths, high-risk youths. So we have prevention, intervention, depression and re-entry programs, and we go out and audit those programs and make sure that the funding is being utilized efficiently and effectively.

    WW: To what level are you still involved with the Olympics and gymnastics?

    KS: I am so involved with various Olympic sponsors and United States Gymnastics. I really enjoy breaking up the monotony of the work routine and getting a chance to meet different people and do different things, and promote gymnastics or the Olympic Movement, because it clearly changed my life. And I truly believe in both of them in terms of [how] gymnastics is a great for kids, and the Olympic movement is really special in terms of bringing people together -- the whole world comes together for Olympic competition.

    WW: So if you ever have children, would you ever put them in gymnastics?

    KS: I think gymnastics is great for basic coordination. Today, so many moms and babies and fathers, too, go to these classes. For me, today, especially in the line of work I am in, it is critical that children are involved in something they love. And that after school they have something to do so they don't get in trouble. I loved sports. I think sports parallels life -- you literally and figuratively fall down, and you know it's teamwork and to be physically fit today is of utmost importance. But if not, hopefully they will play a musical instrument or be involved in the arts or something of that nature.

    WW: Do you keep in touch with any of the other members from the Magnificent Seven?

    KS: Yeah, I do. I am still very close with my teammate of the time Dominique Moceanu, the little one, and we trained with Bella just the two of us. She lives in Cleveland and I live in D.C., but I would say we talk once a week and we have been to each other's weddings. I've seen her children; we are involved in each other's lives. USA Gymnastics tries to bring us all together at different events, so we have like a 10-year reunion; we had our 15-year reunion a little early at the end of March at the Visa American Cup. I think once gymnastics is in your blood, it's kind of always there. You know, it has been 15 years, and we have all evolved and we are doing our own thing, but again, gymnastics always brings us back together.

  • WW: Do you have any plans involved in the Olympics next year in London?

    KS: I have gone to every summer Olympic games since Atlanta and two of the winter Olympic games, so I am really hoping that I will be going to London as well. I usually go with an Olympic sponsor and serve as a delegation member, so I will go to the gymnastics competition and talk about what's going on. And then I will sit with them in the stands and they can ask questions, and then afterward, I will go through what happened during the competition. I think every Olympics tries to outdo the next, and I love going now as a spectator. As an Olympian you go so focused, because you have spent your whole live preparing for this that you don't really get to embrace the other competitors, and you don't watch the other competitions in opening ceremony and things like that, because you are just focused on yourself. The Olympics are just really special in terms of the stories that come out of the games, and to be there live -- like when Michael Phelps won his seventh gold medal in Beijing -- is exciting. Things like that when you are in the stadium -- just to feel the excitement and the enthusiasm and see the American flag wave with the national anthem -- it's really special, and it gets you motivated to be your best in whatever challenges that come your way and in your life.

    For further information, please contact Gene Spotlight Inc. at info@genespotlight.org or (305)742-2811.

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