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McKayla Maroney: Quitting Gymnastics ‘Was an Identity Crisis’

McKayla Maroney
McKayla Maroney arrives at the Tiger Beat's Pre-Party Around FOX's Teen Choice Awards at HYDE Sunset: Kitchen + Cocktails on July 28, 2016 in West Hollywood, California.Steve Granitz/

Four years ago, McKayla Maroney was going for the gold at the London Olympics as part of the Fierce Five and making headlines for her “not impressed” face. Now, she’s happily focusing on her upcoming musical debut, but she told Us Weekly in a candid chat that the transition wasn’t super smooth.

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McKayla Maroney
McKayla Maroney poses with her silver medal on the podium of the women’s vault final of the artistic gymnastics event of the London Olympic Games on August 5, 2012. THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images

“I lost myself. It was an identity crisis, no doubt,” the 20-year-old told Us of leaving the gymnastics world after multiple surgeries and health issues. “I would go and meet people and they’d tell me, ‘You’re the gymnast.’ And I’m like, now that I’m no longer a competing gymnast, it throws people off and that would throw me off. I don’t want to let people down. It was such a big test for me to be like, you know what? No! I’m worth more than a gold medal. I’m worth more than being a gymnast. I am not what I do. I am who I am and I’m what I love.”

The former Olympian said that at first she thought seeing former teammates Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas try for back-to-back gold medals would be difficult, but now she’s just excited for them. “I didn’t know how I was going to be able to handle [watching the Rio Olympics], because being an athlete and being in that world, it’s almost like you’re like, ‘Oh man, I wish that I would’ve been able to be there,’ but I have a total different outlook on it and I am so excited for these girls. Like these newcomers, their whole life is about to turn upside down in the most beautiful way possible,” she told Us. “For Aly and Gabby, this is their second time … They pushed themselves to that next level and they deserve to be there more than anybody else. So if anything, I’m going to be watching them crying because I’m so happy.” 

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McKayla Maroney Olympics
McKayla Maroney performs on the vault during the Artistic Gymnastic women’s team final at the 2012 Summer Olympics on July 31, 2012, in London. AP Photo/Gregory Bull

Throwing herself into music has helped Maroney make peace with the new direction her life has taken. Recently, she’s been working on a new single called “Ghost” that will be out September 8. “I like to say my genre is vulnerable pop because it’s all melody and lyrically driven and heart driven,” she said, adding that her “favorite thing to sing about is love” and Taylor Swift is one of her big inspirations.

Although Maroney told Us she’s “very much single” at the moment, the new chapter of her life involves dating — something she was never able to do as a gymnast. “We weren’t allowed to have a boyfriend,” she said. “You’re so dedicated and committed. I mean, I was in the gym for like eight hours a day and then outside of that I’d be doing school or writing songs in my free time, so there really wasn’t time for boys at all.” 

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She’s also enjoyed experimenting with makeup and style, but that’s come with criticism on social media — many commenters have questioned whether she’s done something to her face or gotten lip injections. “I haven’t had anything done,” she told Us. “I’m just getting older and I’m 20 now. Four years ago, I was 16 and I weighed 20 pounds less than I do now!”

Maroney said the only way to deal with the negative Instagram comments is simply to not read them and to stay confident, but it can be tough even for a gold medalist. “It’s hard to have [a sense of confidence] when … your confidence is on competition. I grew up like, ‘If I’m not in first place, then I’m not great.’ So in a way, there’s different things in life that make you strong, but they can also make you weak at the same time,” she said. “I’ve had to work on my confidence a lot and I think that’s something that I’ll openly admit.”

Besides her music and makeup, she’s currently appearing on Good Morning America to add some insight to their gymnastics coverage of the Rio Olympics. She will also be acting in an upcoming episode of the NBC comedy Superstore for an Olympic-themed episode. 

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