In the summer of 2004, Louisiana native Carly Patterson took the Athens Olympics by storm when she won the Women's Gymnastics All- Around Gold Medal. She was the first American women in twenty years to win the title. Carly and Team USA took home Silver in the Team All Around and she also took home silver on beam. Carly walked away from the 2004 Olympics with 3 medals, all at the age of sixteen. Carly Patterson is now an amazing public speaker inspiring young women everywhere with her story and her passion for Christ. She is also married to Mark Caldwell and they now reside in Dallas, Texas. We got the opportunity to connect with Carly to talk about faith, identity and of course gymnastics!
1. How old were you when you started gymnastics?
- I was six years old and my cousin was having a gymnastics birthday party. I played around on the equipment and loved it. The coach and owner of the gym asked my mom if I was a gymnast. She stated I wasn’t and he encouraged her to put me in gymnastics.
2. How did you come to know Christ?
-I have always had a strong upbringing. I grew up going to church and I got a strong foundation when I was younger. My relationship with Him has continued to grow and it has gotten stronger over the years. I am so thankful for my walk with Christ.
3. When did you know you wanted to do Gymnastics professionally?
- I made the decision when I was 15, I had agents approach me and I was one of the top competitors in the world and the US at the time. I had known for a while that I did not want to continue gymnastics in college. I wanted to focus only on school and not balance both. It ended up being the right decision for me.
4. Was there ever a struggle or hard time you faced as a gymnast? And how did your faith get you through it?
-Yes, there were plenty of times. One I can remember was when my parents were getting a divorce. I was 13 years old I was really upset and sad but I was able to lean into my faith. I was very blessed to have an outlet like gymnastics and channel my anger and sadness into gymnastics.
Another time was when it was less, than year before I went to Olympics I had to have surgery because I had broken my elbow. I was second in the world at the time and after the surgery I had three months of recovery. It was scary because I had never had an injury like that. I felt like I had come so far and it seemed like such bad timing. Was this all for nothing? Is this a career ender? Worry definitely crept in. In this time I had to lean into my faith I had to trust God and know that he had a plan. With God’s strength and my determination I came back stronger than ever and won the Olympics. When I stood on the podium I was thinking back about all of the years of hard work and I was thanking God that He was with me through it all and that I was able to achieve my dreams.
5. If you could give any girl a piece of advice what would it be?
- My first piece of advice would be to surround yourself with a great group of people. I am so lucky that God has provided me with a great husband, family and friends. When positive and supportive people surround you it makes life so enjoyable and amazing. Make sure you have a good community of people around you. Secondly, it would be to Be Yourself. These days it is so hard for people to be themselves. Social media has been a big influencer where people feel like they have to have photo shopped lives. We constantly compare our lives to the next person. I want girls to remember, as hard as life can be, to be thankful where they are. God made you perfect for your situation. Lastly, it would be to be confident in who God made you and always look to Him for your confidence.
6. What was it like being at the Olympics and what do you remember most?
- It was really cool because my Olympics were in Greece and it was the birthplace of the Olympics. I remember pretty much every little detail. It was such a surreal experience. Knowing I was representing our country and having USA on my back was so cool. I felt prepared and ready. I remember getting a terrible night sleep the night before the all-around competition and feeling so worried and upset. I went to practice that morning and it wasn’t great. I went back to my room and called my mom and she encouraged me. My coach told my to take a nap and everything was going to be fine. I woke up from my nap and I felt excited and confident. I didn’t realize it then, but I know that was God giving me peace and saying you got this I have a plan for you. I always prayed before my competitions and before I saluted. Winning gold that night was just incredible and surreal. The other part that I loved was being in the Olympic Village. It was so cool to be surrounded by such athletic greatness. The Olympics is such a unifying event. I will truly never forget any of it.
7. Which event do you like best and why? (Floor, beams, bars, vault)?
-Beam is my favorite and my best event. Skills just came easier on beam and it always felt like working on the floor for me.
8. What is your favorite Bible verse and why?
- Growing up it was always Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things, through Christ who gives me strength. It is still one of my favorites today. I don’t think this is a bible verse, but I had a poster in my room that said, “God provides the talent and we must provide the effort.” In life, nothing gets handed to you. You have to work hard. God can give you all the tools, but it’s up to us to put in the work.
9. What advice would you give to young women who are struggling with identity?
- I would say the best advice I can give is to pray about it! For me, I definitely struggled with my identity after retiring from gymnastics. I was on top of the world, I had won the Olympics and everybody wanted a piece of me. That dies down and you become a normal person again, especially after you retire. When you go through that fame rollercoaster it all comes crashing back down. I went through a time where I felt like if I’m not a gymnast I am a no body. I had to find out what life was without the sport. I had to find a new passion and a new love. I would also encourage girls to try new passions, because God give all of us many talents. For me I tried singing after gym. It didn’t work out, but I had fun and I learned a lot. I also challenge girls that even if their scared, go after new things and explore life to light that passion inside of you. For me getting to speak and share my story and still be a part of gymnastics does that for me.
10. What is the biggest faith lesson you have learned?
- I think I am currently walking in it. What I am learning is we always have to trust God plan even if we don’t always understand it. So many times we see God answer our prayers, but then we are on to the next thing. It can be easy to forget what God has done for us. I know that no matter what I am going through God is always going to stand by me.
My husband and I have been going through a really tough couple of years trying to have baby. We have had to change our perspectives. Instead of begging for this to happen or being angry about the situation, we are learning to thank him for the journey. Changing my mentality about it has been key to getting through this. How can I be mad and bitter when the journey God has me on might be uncomfortable, but he wants me to learn something in this. How can I be mad when I know he is making my relationship with Him closer and making my marriage closer and stronger than ever. I am learning to thank him for the journey instead of saying why me. I challenge others to do the same.
11. Last question but how did you and your husband meet?
-One of my favorite stories. My family friend had a wedding coming up and I was not feeling like going because I wasn’t going to know anyone. My mom kept encouraging me to go. I finally gave in and went to the wedding. While I was standing in the buffet line I met this amazing man and the rest is history! He is my biggest blessing from the Lord and I am so thankful I went to that wedding!
Pictures provided by: Carly Patterson Caldwell