CHAMPLIN, Minnesota (CNS) – The Champlin Twin City Twisters are the home gym for Grace McCallum, a member of the U.S. gymnastics team for the 2018 world championships.
A large banner hangs over the main entrance of the establishment in honor of this accomplishment. But her supporters are hoping the gym will need a new banner soon that reads: “Home of Grace McCallum, 2020 Olympic Gold Medalist”.
McCallum was selected after the US Olympic Trials in St. Louis on June 27 to be part of the US women’s gymnastics team for the Tokyo Summer Games, which begin on July 23.
It’s a lot of pressure for the 18-year-old Isanti who is a member of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish. But she takes it in stride.
“I’m super excited,” McCallum said. “I feel so blessed to have had this opportunity to represent our country at the biggest competition in the world.”
The experience was a bit surreal, and she’s still caught up in the whirlwind of being chosen for the team, she told Central Minnesota Catholic, the magazine for the diocese of St. Cloud, Minnesota.
“I’m just trying not to think about it too much, I’m going to compete and have fun,” said McCallum. “I mean, I got there; now I’m just going to enjoy it, enjoy every moment. So I try not to let the pressure of this being the biggest competition get on me. “
She was confident, but still not sure she would bring the team into the trials.
“I knew it was going to be really, really close between me, MyKayla (Arizona Skinner) and Kayla (Maryland DiCello),” she said. “It was basically the one that hit that day. I felt a little bit of pressure, but then I (thought), ‘I’m just going to have fun today and do what I’m doing. Whatever God wants for me, he will make it happen. I just had to trust everything.
Her gym team is thrilled to see her compete in Tokyo.
“I have such a good support system here. They are all super happy and excited, ”she said. “I was really lucky with the amazing team I have.”
In addition to her team at the gym, McCallum’s family will be watching her compete on television. Due to the COVID-19 restrictions in place for the Games, no family member is allowed to attend.
“It will be an adjustment, but you know, it’s OK,” she said. “It’s a once in a lifetime experience, so you’re going to do whatever you can and you’re going to follow all the rules. “
Her mother, Sandy, who only missed one or two of her daughter’s gymnastics meets, had planned before the pandemic to travel to Tokyo.
“I’m a little sorry about it and I know she is too, but it’s okay,” McCallum said. “She will cheer me on from home. It would be nice to have her in the stands so I can see her up there.
Japan announced on July 8 that the Olympics will be held in a state of emergency and without any spectators during events in Tokyo due to concerns over the coronavirus. The protocols in place for the athletes are also very strict, McCallum said.
Team members will be tested before leaving the United States on July 14, as well as upon arrival in Tokyo. Their temperatures will be monitored and their activities limited, she said.
“I think it’s a great team. We all work very well together and we get along very well, ”she said. “This is going to be important because we are stuck in our rooms when we are in Tokyo. We go from the hotel to the training center and that’s it. We are not even allowed to leave the hotel floor.
The pandemic has presented many other challenges, including staying in shape to be ready for the rescheduled Games.
“It was difficult to have this all over the place last year,” she said. “But our gym did an amazing job keeping us in shape. We did a lot of training at home… so it wasn’t too difficult when we got back.
McCallum, disappointed that the Olympics were postponed last year, said she had to trust him in God’s faith and timing. She planned to compete in 2020 and then take a year off to let her body recover before heading to the University of Utah.
Now she’ll be going there in the fall without this year of recovery, but she’s still excited for the start of the school year.
She turned to college because of her gymnastics program – her teammate MyKayla Skinner is a former student – but she was also impressed with the medical program. And she felt at home there, she said.
“I knew I wanted to go somewhere in the medical field because I feel, as a gymnast, that you already know so much about your body,” said McCallum. “I wish I could help other athletes because I know what they’re going through. I know their pains, so I think it would be really cool to help them in any way I can.
There were other challenges as well. In November, her uncle, John McCallum, who was diagnosed with ALS several years ago, passed away.
“It was really, really hard on our family. It took a long time to process because it was such a big part of our lives, ”McCallum said. “But I’m just thinking I’m going to live like John.” He lived his life to the fullest. And he really, especially in the last couple of months, has relied on God.
And then, in January, she broke her left hand and had to have surgery to put in a plate and seven screws.
“I thought my Olympic dreams were lost, but then I was like, ‘No you know what? Everything happens for a reason.’ I just have to trust God on this and watch over me.
She is now fully recovered and ready to face whatever comes her way. ” I’m fine. All healed and ready to go, ”she said.
During the pandemic, McCallum and his family watched Mass live from their parish. Now that the parishioners are back in the pews, McCallum said she hopes they continue with the live broadcast so she can connect with her home parish while she is in Tokyo and the future.
When she travels with the team and cannot attend Mass, she keeps her faith close in other ways. She has a rosary in her backpack as well as a special cross from her grandmother.
“She travels with these things to bring him peace and calm,” her mother told Central Minnesota Catholic in a 2019 interview. “Grace will not travel anywhere without them.”
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Towalski is a multimedia reporter for Central Minnesota Catholic, the magazine for the Diocese of St. Cloud.