Gymnast Mary Lou Retton (1968-), just about 4'8-3/4" and 94-pounds, was an Olympic athlete with a flaming heart. Born on this day in Fairmont, West Virginia, and the granddaughter of a coal miner, she began studying dance and acrobatics at age 4.
"I'm very determined and stubborn. There's a desire...that makes me want to do more and more, and to do it right," said Retton, an exuberant sparkplug who made Olympic history in 1984 by becoming the first American to win the Gold Medal in the All-Around in women's gymnastics.
"Even though it may seem counterintuitive, a comfort zone is a dangerous place to be," she said.
With a radiant, wide smile, Retton came from behind and earned the perfect score of tens in the vault, the final event of the competition. "The Vault without Fault," said Sports Illustrated. "With one powerful, full-twisting layout double Tsukahara, gymnast Mary Lou Retton vaulted into the national consciousness."
Retton's flawless leap of determination was born of many long hours under the demanding eye of Bela Karolyi, the Romanian coach who guided Nadia Comaneci to Olympic gold. Retton described Karolyi as "charging around the gym, yelling, cajoling, sweet-talking and challenging his girls to go faster, higher and stronger."
About Retton, Karolyi said, "She was the sunshine of my coaching career."
"Heat is required to forge anything. Every great accomplishment is the story of a flaming heart," she said and was inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame in 1997.
Still widely-recognized throughout the world, Retton has since focused on motherhood, writing, and motivational speaking, sharing stories about the Olympics and her personal battle with joint pain and hip-replacement surgeries.
"Each of us has a fire in our heart for something. It is our goal in life to find it and keep it lit," Retton said.
Use what you got.