Wendy Bruce is no stranger to pressure. As a member of the 1989 World Championship team and the 1992 Olympic team, Wendy knows all to well what it's like to compete on the world's largest stage. Today, she shares her experiences with athletes as a mental toughness trainer and coach--a role that has brought her peace and happiness in her life after gymnastics. We caught up with Wendy to talk about her Olympic experience as well as her job as a motivational speaker and mental coach!
How did you get started in gymnastics?
I started at a local club in Fort Lauderdale. Back then it was more about flipping and having fun. I didn't have any particular inspirations, just the girls in the gym, I always looked up to my older teammates.
You were a member of the 1989 World Championship team, your first major international assignment, what was that experience like for you?
I don't remember anything about the competition. I remember rooming with Chelle Stack, meeting the Canadian Team, wearing make-up for the first time, listening to Martin Gore, and bonding with my teammates. I remember the coaches cooking for us, because the cook wasn't there and we needed food.
At what point in your career did the Olympics seem like a real possibility to you?
I always had it as my dream. I would always answer everyone's questions of "are you going to the Olympics?" with a yes. I don't know if I was stupid or ridiculously smart, but that was just my plan as a kid. I didn't think about it everyday, I just knew that I was training to be better everyday.
Can you talk a little bit about the selection process for the 1992 Olympic team? A lot of people believed the process was a bit unfair. [Note: Kim Kelly was named to the team after trials, and then taken off at a later camp in favor of a gymnast who didn't compete at the Trials.]
When I think back, I don't remember if I truly understood that the "camp" was a new selection process. I thought that it was for Michelle [Campi] and Betty [Okino] to show they were healthy enough to earn a spot. I thought it was between them, and one of them would make it. My coaches didn't tell me much about things. I knew I had to look good and hit, but I don't think I was ever worried about not making it. I am not sure if everyone was told exactly what the deal was, I just know that it was shocking that Kim Kelly was the one left behind. I didn't think her spot was in danger, I truly thought it was between Michelle and Betty. I thought everyone looked amazing at the selection camp, I just don't know if I truly understood that we all went in with a clean slate. After the camp, I realized it.
I think the worst thing about the selection procedure was that I never saw Kim again after that day. We didn't know what was going on with all the media, we were kept pretty isolated. I know that it still haunts Kim every four years, but I wish she knew how much we love her. We were all kids, and just wanted to go to the Olympics. I do think our team did it's job and in the end, everything worked out.
The team went on to win the bronze medal at the Olympics, were you satisfied with that result?
I was. I had no expectations on what I thought we we were going to do. I just wanted to hit my routines. It was different back then, we were six girls from four gyms, we were strangers competing together for the first time. I only really focused on myself. We only competed together one day as a team and then everyone split apart again. Me and my coaches and family were beyond excited, we couldn't have asked for anything more.
What was the comradery like with the team? Nowadays, the girls have camps and the internet to keep in touch. Are you friends with any of your teammates today?
We are now. I didn't know the girls on my team. I spent a month with them, but it wasn't a fun time. We trained, ate, and slept. The tour was strange too, I felt like a background dancer to the star. We left the tour with hugs and then we never really talked again.
I didn't get back into gymnastics until 2009. My business partner David Benzel, Growing Champions for Life, and I started speaking at gyms across Florida. We talked about what parents, coaches, and athletes can do to compete with confidence. We started speaking at USA congress and it was the first time I had really met everyone again. It was wonderful. I had felt so isolated, unwanted, and obsolete in the world of gymnastics. Being back into the mix felt good, like I was at home, but not as a gymnast, but as a family member. I was able to meet all the coaches and competitors from back in the 1992 era. We told stories and it was great to have new relationships with everyone. I only really met Betty and Kim in November of 2015. Betty and I were at the Ranch for a Brevet course and Kim was there with Ragan [Smith]. We all connected like we were long lost sisters. The internet and the ranch is so important for the girls. They have very deep, meaningful relationships with their teammates, we literally had to send a letter by mail or call them on the phone to find out what they were up to. There was such a feeling of disconnect. When USAG brought us all together for trials, I was so happy. They gave us an opportunity to make these teammates our friends. I finally met Dom [Dawes], her kids and her husband. It was so important for me to know that they liked me. I know that is what the girls feel these days, they do love each other and respect their gymnastics. But us old timers never really knew our teammates.
What was the atmosphere like at the games? Looking back, what are some of your favorite memories?
It was intense. We trained everyday, two times a day for a month. I wasn't used to that type of training and I was exhausted. We didn't get to experience the village much, we were super focused on training. After the team final, I didn't make any more finals, so then I walked around, went to some parties and enjoyed Spain.
What was life after the Olympics like for you?
Life after was not what I thought it was going to be. I had trained my entire life for this one moment, and then when I got it, I was lost. Now what? I was standing on top on my mountain looking out on my career and marveled in my accomplishments and then when it was time to move forward, I had no idea how to get down. I had no help, no directions, no plan. I didn't know what I wanted to do, who I was, or even what I was capable of. I knew I was a gymnast and won a medal, but didn't know that my medal wasn't going to provide me with any of my answers. I was lost, depressed, and bitter for a long time.
Did you have any regrets?
No regrets, not one. I tried to make a comeback in 94, mostly because I was lost and the only thing that I knew was gymnastics. So I went back to my old life. I thought the answer was trying to win a gold medal this time. Maybe the gold would have the answers. But after about 6 months, I realized that I didn't want to do gymnastics anymore, but I didn't know how to live without it.
Was college gymnastics ever something you considered?
I took money for training so I lost my eligibility. I also was so focused solely on gymnastics that I didn't take my ACT or SAT. I always looked at college gymnastics as a sisterhood that I never got to experience. I went back to college 10 years ago and had to start with remedial classes. I just finally graduated with my degree in Psychology in 2013.
As an athlete that once made the decision to turn professional, what are your thoughts on young gymnasts having to make such a big decision before they are fully able to grasp the pros and cons of it? Also, what advice would you give to a gymnast who is trying to make this decision?
I don't think it's about gymnastics success per se but more about using gymnastics as a platform. It's should be more than making money off of sponsors or the tour because that won't last too long. All my post gymnastics life, no one was asking for me to represent their companies. After the tour I never made money for appearances again. I do think it is important to know if the gymnast is marketable beyond those two years after the Olympics and each gymnast must weigh the odds. If the gymnast is looking to only make money on immediate sponsorships and the tour, then it might be better off for them to opt out of going professional and decide to go to college instead. How much money is college and how much will you make from sponsors and the tour? Unless you're Simone [Biles] and well, making much much more.
Let's take Laurie [Hernandez]. I do think she is different. She has spice and sass. She can be marketable because she is Laurie. People know her because of the Olympics, but she may be able to continue to gain popularity because of new things, like DWTS. I can see her doing commercials with those eyes. She has that it factor as well as an Olympic gold medal. She is outgoing and someone who might have been a star no matter what. I see Laurie as a Disney star. I am introverted and not so much the DWTS type of person. I get it, I'm not that marketable for ads and no one knows me, and college may have been a better option for me. Now I use my Olympic status to work with other athletes. They know I reached the ultimate dream and I know what is like every step of the way. I don't think it's that cut and dry. I think each athlete needs to make their own decisions on going pro.
How did you get into mental coaching and motivational speaking?
Mental coaching is the most rewarding thing in my life. I love my husband, Trucky, and my kids Cameron and Sammie, but helping athletes believe and love themselves is internally rewarding in a way I didn't know I needed in my life. Talk about my purpose in life...this is it. I wasn't the perfect gymnast, I had fears and doubts, yet wanted to make the Olympics. I had this constant battle going on in my head of what I wanted and what I truly believed I was capable of. I knew my goal was to be an Olympian, but did I really believe I was capable of it? My thoughts weren't the most empowering for an athlete, but I didn't know that back then. I didn't know that my thoughts were the wrong thoughts for an Olympic hopeful. I only learned about the mental side of sports after the Olympics when I went to see a Mental Trainer when I was trying to make my comeback in 94. From that day, I knew I wanted to work with athletes on the mental side.
What is the biggest piece of advice that you like to share with young athletes?
The results will never bring you happiness, happiness comes from the process and the journey. Do gymnastics because you love to fly and flip, or because you love to challenge yourself and push yourself past your limits. Don't do gymnastics because you think that you will find happiness in success. Making the Olympics and winning a bronze didn't make me successful. I am successful because I learned how to overcome my fears, push myself past what I thought I was capable of, and learned how to make mistakes and move on. I learned how to be successful because of gymnastics and learned how to push, fight, work hard, and reach my dreams. My medal is only a physical representation of my work. Who I am is what that work created.
Appreciate the journey each of us are on, some of us will go to college, nationals, worlds, and the Olympics, but that does not mean that those who don't go are worthless, unworthy, or beneath anyone else. Know who you are and that no matter what the outcome, it is only one chapter of your story. The rest of the story is about the struggle, the work, the pain, tears, accomplishments, and successes along the way, and those are the chapters that are exciting. Gymnastics is what we do, not who we are. We chose gymnastics because we thrive on excellence. That is what makes us great. Use those tools in your life, chose excellence and strive for it everyday.
Have you been following the Olympics? What are some of your thoughts from the competitions?
I LOVED the men's energy and fight during the team finals. I could feel their passion. The women are phenomenal. I have mad respect for them and their coaches. It isn't easy to chose the elite life these days, but the athlete/coach team seem to keep everything in check. It will be interesting to see life after Marta. I know she was a calculated director, but I think she will be a warm hearted and loving now that she won't be in charge. Ya know like a strict mom, but when that mom becomes a grandma, she lets the grandkids eat cookies, stay up late, and not make their beds. I think that will be Marta.
Want more? Wendy has a lot of interesting and insightful stories on her website. Click here to check it out!