What Life Is Really Like After Winning Olympic Gold, By Nastia Liukin
Next summer will mark a decade since gymnast Nastia Liukin was crowned all-around individual champion at the Beijing Olympics. For any 18-year-old, this coveted threshold of athletic glory could certainly be an identity in itself, a be-all and end-all. But that's a narrative the now 27-year-old would ultimately refuse. Instead, Liukin simply decided that this was only the beginning of the rest of her life.
That's not to say that Liukin isn't immensely proud of that particular accomplishment and the platform her title has provided. "I love being able to meet and work with young girls all across the country and world, teaching them to believe in their dreams and goals," she explains. "Whether it means being an Olympian, a lawyer, or a doctor, it's so important to never let someone tell you that you can't do something."
Liukin certainly takes her own advice: After officially retiring from gymnastics in 2012, she enrolled in NYU and earned a degree in sports management while juggling a stint on Dancing With the Stars and a special correspondent gig for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, among many other side projects.
These days, in addition to her personal website (and for the next few months, joining THE/THIRTY as a contributor and JoyLab ambassador), Liukin's focus is on Grander Sports, a mobile networking app that connects aspiring gymnasts with high-profile mentors (like fellow former Olympians Alicia Sacramone and Carly Patterson). It's a testament, Liukin says, to her unflagging passion for fitness (and quite literally passing the torch).
"Even though I don't compete for gold medals anymore, being active has remained the constant in my life," she says. "Working and living a healthy and active lifestyle brings me joy and energizes me every day." That said, Liukin concedes that the shift from world-class competitor to fitness enthusiast was not easy. Below, Liukin shares an intimate look at what life really looks like after winning Olympic gold—and how she stays on top of her fitness goals now.
On the tough transition from competition to regular life:
"It was one of the hardest transitions of my life, both mentally and physically. For a long time, I had no idea who I was as a person without gymnastics in my life. It truly defined me. I had to start figuring out who I was, and what my passions, and new goals were. Physically, after I stopped training seven hours a day, I gained about 30 pounds, and ultimately lost all confidence. Millions of people watched my compete in the Olympics Games in my hot pink leotard, and the next time they saw me, I didn't look anything like that.
"It was definitely a challenge, but when I got back in the groove of being active again, I got in better shape (though not Olympic shape!) and restored my self-confidence. Now I love to work out because it makes me feel great. It's not ever about how I look; more so how it makes me feel. I have more energy when I work out and am a happier person too!"
On the evolution of her workout routine:
"To be honest, it has completely changed. While training for the Olympics, I trained seven hours a day, six days a week. And it wasn't just my gymnastics routines—I also ran two to three miles every day and did over an hour of strength training. Needless to say, it was very intense.
"These days, I definitely try to do some kind of workout or find a way to be active everyday. My favorites are SoulCycle, CorePower Yoga's Sculpt class, Barry's Bootcamp, and Orangetheory. I spend a lot of time in L.A., so I also love going on hikes. I think because I had a coach my entire competitive career, I find it much easier to work out in classes as opposed to just going to the gym and creating my own workout for the day."
On the advice she'd give her pre-Olympics self:
"You know, my dad actually told me this when I was about 10 years old, and at the time, I don't think I realized exactly what he meant. But he told me that gymnastics is just a short time of your life, and it will only take you so far, but an education will stick with you for the rest of your life. After graduating from NYU last year (better late than never, right?!), I believe that more and more. While winning an Olympic gold medal is something I will forever be proud of, I don't want to look back at my life years from now and that be the only thing I achieved. That's why I'm setting new dreams and goals for myself."