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Meredith Leigh Knight Columnist

Published Friday, August 03, 2012

Eat your Wheaties

Have you had your Wheaties today? I got asked that every morning by my little sister during the summer of 1984.

No, she wasn’t worried -- like my grandmother -- that I was growing too thin. She was making sure I ate my daily bowl so she could collect the box top and claim her coveted Mary Lou Retton poster. I’m not sure how many mornings I spent mindlessly spooning the not-so-flavorful flakes into my mouth with the perky Retton smiling at me, but I believe we needed four box tops or perhaps it was 10. All I know is, I was as happy as she was to receive the poster.

In case you’ve forgotten, Retton was a gymnast who, after winning her second American Cup, the U.S. Nationals and the U.S. Olympic Trials in 1984, suffered a knee injury, according to Wikipedia. After undergoing an operation, she recovered just in time for the 1984 summer Olympics in Los Angeles. During the competition (which was boycotted by the Soviet bloc nations except Romania), Retton went head-to-head with a Romanian gymnast for the all-around title.

If I have to go on, it means you may not have owned a television set. As for my sister and me, we were glued to ours. It wasn’t a big screen like we have today, so we sat right dab in front of it, cheering wildly with the rest of America as Retton scored perfect 10s on the floor exercise and vault to win the all-around title by 0.05 points. Stocky with a brilliant smile, the spunky gymnast won our hearts -- and inspired us, particularly my gymnast sister, Christie. She practiced faithfully at the gym, even on Sundays, and at home. We actually had a gymnastics room, complete with mats and a balance beam, and this was a small three bedroom, two bath house.

Though I never had the courage to attempt a back handspring, and despite nightly stretches, I could never do a split, I spent many a weekend watching my sister and her team perform. They were a team with a lot of heart coached by a local legend – Cricket Shelnutt, whom I’m proud to say was given his nickname by my dad.

Most recently, that group of former gymnasts reconnected on Facebook to reminisce in honor of this year’s summer Olympic games in London, England. Pictures have been posted of the Newnan team, many of whom sported short Mary Lou Retton bobs. The group reminisced about other past gymnasts such as Bart Connor and Mitch Gaylord, whom we had the opportunity to meet, and all the good memories they have from those years in the gym.

This week the Fabulous Five (the nickname for the U.S. women’s Olympic team) earned the all-around team gold. The last time that occurred was right down the road during the 1996 Atlanta Games, when the Magnificent Seven became the first American women’s gymnastics team to claim the crown. Today, the names have changed, but the smiles have remained. Who knows what young gymnast or gymnast’s sibling, for that matter, may be watching and drawing inspiration?

There is something about the Olympics that gives people hope. Underdogs can win. Ordinary people can train and become great. I think the Olympics reminds people that life can be fair and that hard work and determination can pay off.

Just remember to eat your Wheaties.

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