Former U.S. Olympic gold medalist Nastia Liukin visited X-Cel Gymnastics in Cranberry Township last week and spoke to hundreds of young gymnasts.
CRANBERRY TWP — Members of X-Cel Gymnastics are used to long hours of training within the facility’s walls. But last Wednesday afternoon, the gym afforded them an opportunity of a different sort. Former U.S. Olympic gold medalist Nastia Liukin visited X-Cel to promote the P&G Gymnastics Championships, which will be held in Pittsburgh in late August. Liukin, 24, was a nine-time medalist at the world championships and won gold in the All-Around at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. She retired from competition in 2012. Hundreds of enthused gymnasts awaited Liukin’s arrival, after which she answered questions and signed autographs. “This is so exciting,” said Lindsey Stancil, who, along with her husband, Brian, own the gym located on Executive Drive. “To have somebody so important to the sport of gymnastics visit our gym, it’s very motivating for the girls. Nastia is such a good role model.” Liukin was born in the Soviet Union, but moved to the United States with her parents when she was 2 years old. She grew up near Dallas. Both her mother and father were top-level gymnasts. “They never pushed me into gymnastics, but were very supportive,” she said. “I learned a lot from both of them.” While she has competed and succeeded at the sport’s highest level, Liukin wasn’t shy about admitting how she felt before competing. “I was always nervous,” she said. “Being nervous shows you care and that you want to do well. The key is learning how to deal with it. “I always did a lot of visualizing about the event I was about to compete in. That way, when it came time for me to go out there, I felt like I had already gone through my routine.” No matter the caliber of gymnast, bad days will occur. Liukin’s advice regarding this matter was clear. “Never quit after a bad day,” she said. “Tough days in the gym make you stronger both physically and mentally.” One gymnast who paid close attention to Liukin’s comments was 12-year old Adams Township resident Zoe Schweitzer. “Nastia said that she got nervous before competing and had bad days,” said Schweitzer, a Level 10 competitor. “To hear an Olympic champion say that, it really motivated me. You just have to push through and continue to get better.” At one time, Liukin was a young gymnast in training, just like the ones sitting in front of her on Wednesday. She wanted each of them to be sure that they were there for the right reasons. “Set short-term goals, things you can achieve on a weekly or monthly basis,” she said. “That way, you feel like you are working toward something every day. “Make sure the goals you are trying to reach are your own,” she added. “They shouldn’t be your parents’ goals or your coach’s goals. After all, you are the one spending all of the time working in the gym.” All of the work Liukin put in over the years culminated with her gold medal six years ago. She was just 18 years old at the time. “There were so many things I had to overcome to get there,” she said. “Injuries and other obstacles, that was all going through my mind when I was standing on that podium.” Now enrolled at New York University as a sports management major, Liukin is fine with competitive gymnastics being in the rear-view mirror. “I began training when I was 2 years old,” she said. “All those years in the gym and in competitions, it’s very grueling on the body. I achieved everything I wanted to in gymnastics. I have no regrets.” X-Cel Gymnastics has 1,700 members, ranging from the Baby Bears program for 1-year olds, through age 18. For more details, call 724-772-0055.