During the 2008 Olympic quadrennium, Natasha Kelley was easily a fan favorite. It all started when she won the junior division of the Visa Championships in 2005. In addition to her all-around title, Natasha also became the junior national champion on beam and floor. Later that year she traveled to Japan where she won gold on beam and in the all-around at the Junior Japan International. Coming into her first year as a senior, Natasha's name was on everyone's radar. She continued her success at the 2006 US Classic where she won the all around title along with Ashley Priess. Then at the Visa Championships she finished second all-around behind Nastia Liukin. Natasha was named to the 2006 World Championship team and won a silver medal with the United States team. She also replaced Chellsie Memmel in the floor finals and finished 7th. Natasha began the 2007 season at the American Cup where she finished second to Shawn Johnson. Then injuries struck and she was unfortunately left off the 2007 Worlds team after not having her best performance at the Visa Championships. Natasha signed her letter of intent to compete for the University of Oklahoma and retired from elite gymnastics shortly before the 2008 Visa Championships. Natasha joined the Oklahoma gymnastics team in 2009 and was one of their most anticipated recruits. Although her career was plagued with injuries, Natasha made the most of every opportunity. In 2010 she helped the Sooners to an historic (at the time) second place finish at the NCAA Championships during their first Super Six appearance ever. The following year she helped the Sooners to a third place finish and earned All-American honors on beam. Natasha was forced to retire during her senior year after the second achilles injury of her career. We caught up with Natasha to reflect back on some of the up's and down's of her career and find out what she's up to today!
|Photo belongs to: Spokeo.com|
How did you get started in gymnastics?
I started gymnastics when I was three. I was always flipping around the house, so my parents decided to enroll me in a "mom and me" class. After that, there was no stopping me!
When did going elite and training for the Olympics become a realistic goal for you?
I think when my family moved to Houston for me to train. Once I got there, everything just seemed to fall into place. I started learning new skills and making a lot of progress right away.
For most of your career you trained at Stars Gymnastics, where Mary Lou Retton's daughters also train. What was it like having Mary Lou around and did she ever give you any good advice?
Mary Lou Retton is amazing. She has always been one of my biggest supporters. She was always there to talk and give me advice through the good and difficult times. She always knew what to say and how to motivate me. It was easy for me to talk to her because she had been down the same road before and knew exactly what it was like. I couldn't have asked for a better role model and supporter.
What was the hardest part about being an elite gymnast? What were some of the best parts?
I think the hardest part about being an elite is all of the sacrifices. My parents and I moved away from my family when I was thirteen so I could train with other coaches. I also rarely had any free time. My life revolved around gymnastics. Competing is definitely one of my favorite parts of elite gymnastics. I am very competitive and loved seeing all my hard work pay off. The sacrifices were definitely worth it in the end.
Was the decision to retire from elite a difficult decision to make?
Retiring from elite was a pretty easy decision for me. I fractured my shin and it became really hard on my body. At the time, I knew it was in my best interest to start focusing on college.
Why did you choose Oklahoma for college gymnastics versus some of the other top schools at the time?
I fell in love with Oklahoma right when I stepped foot on campus. I always knew I wanted to stay close to home. Before visiting Oklahoma, my top choice was LSU. I grew up around that area and always thought that was where I would end up. I was ready to commit, but my parents thought it would be a good idea to visit at least one other school. I chose Oklahoma because it was close to home. I absolutely loved the coaches at Oklahoma. KJ, Lou, Tom and Jenn the trainer were wonderful and made me feel very welcome. Overall, it just felt like the right fit. Everyone was focused on helping me reach my goals and cared about me as a person.
|Photo belongs to: SoonerSports.com|
What do you think about all the success the Oklahoma gymnastics team has had in the last few years?
Oklahoma gymnastics is amazing. The coaches have done a phenomenal job with the program. I am honored to have been apart of the team. The program was already successful when I arrived at OU and that success has continued to grow every year.
Can you talk about making the decision to retire from gymnastics all together?
Oh gosh, retiring from gymnastics is probably the hardest thing I have ever had to do. It was both a hard and easy decision. It was easy because I knew my time was up and it was my calling to be done. However, it was so difficult for me to let go. Mentally, I was not ready to be done, but I had to accept everything that happened. I left on a positive note and was able to see all of the good in the situation. I accomplished so much during my time at OU and even before I came to OU. I felt like there was nothing left on the table and I had no regrets. I loved gymnastics and gave it everything I had. I pushed myself so hard to come back from all of my injuries. In the long run, they ended up making me the person that I am today. I learned a lot about myself from the whole process of competing and retiring.
Looking back, are you satisfied with everything you accomplished in your career? What were some of the high and low points for you?
I am definitely satisfied with everything that I accomplished. Two of the high points of my elite career were winning Visa Championships as a junior in 2005 and making the World team in 2006. They were a couple of my biggest goals and are the two memories that stick out the most in my mind. The only low part that I can think of in my career is all the injuries I had to face.
Do you still keep up with gymnastics today?
Yes! I definitely follow OU gymnastics. I keep up with elite gymnastics here and there. It's weird for me to watch because I used to know all of the elite gymnasts and now I don't really know anyone!
What have you been up to lately?
I have had a lot of new changes lately! I received my master's degree in May in Elementary Education. I recently became a 4th grade teacher and I absolutely love it. I also just got married in June, which has been so exciting! My husband plays football for OU, so our schedules have been very busy!
|Photo belongs to: Natasha Kelley (Evans)|