KENNESAW, Ga. | Nov 18, 2021
Twenty-five years after she secured the U.S. its first gold medal in team gymnastics with an outstanding vault on an injured ankle, Kerri Strug on Wednesday shared with an audience at Kennesaw State University the advice that pushed her to that moment: Commit totally and without fear to what you believe in.
Strug spoke as part of the Paul and Beverly Radow Lecture Series on Jewish Life at the Norman J. Radow College of Humanities and Social Sciences (RCHSS).
“On the (Olympic medal) podium, more than the pain and more than the sacrifice, what I thought about was how much joy and self-satisfaction I felt. That smile on my face mirrored the unbridled euphoria I felt from chasing rainbows and realizing there truly is gold at the end of the journey,” Strug said.
Strug became a sensation following the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, when the then-18-year-old saved the U.S. team’s dreams of winning a gold medal by landing her second vault on an ankle injured during the prior run.
America had been the underdog facing the favored Soviet Union team, and Strug recalled for the crowd at KSU the moments leading up to that final vault when her team’s sudden unraveling near the end of the competition had threatened its victory in the Games.
“When we moved to the vault, right away the stars stopped aligning,” she said, explaining that her teammate fell on both of her attempts before Strug landed awkwardly and fell on her own first attempt. Despite her injury, Strug said she knew she had to press on.
“I think for me, it was like the hard work had already been put in,” she said. “My muscle memory knew what to do so often when I was exhausted, when something hurt, and I was able to just have that muscle memory take me through.”
Strug walked to the line, sprinted toward the springboard and propelled herself high into the air before sticking her landing almost completely on one foot, raising her arms and wincing, keeping her injured leg off the ground. Shortly after, she collapsed and was later carried by her coach to the podium to receive her gold medal, which she brought to the University on Wednesday.
Strug also detailed her journey to the top of her sport, beginning gymnastics before age 3, as well as her life since parting with the sport in college.
Since moving on from gymnastics, Strug earned a bachelor’s degree in communications and a master’s in social psychology from Stanford University, taught in K-12 public schools and worked at the White House in student correspondence. For the past 17 years, she has worked for the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, assisting at-risk youth. She is the mother of two children.
Strug said the lessons and discipline learned during her career as a world-class athlete have transferred to her new career journeys. She encouraged the members of the audience to be lifelong learners who pursue multiple passions relentlessly.
“What I’ve learned over the years in the different experiences I’ve had is that life is a continuous search,” Strug said. “It’s wonderful to find that thing you really want to accomplish and work toward it, but for many, finding that thing isn’t so easy. And even when you do, it’s just not enough. You can reach the pinnacle of one path, but you soon realize that one path just leads you to another.”
The Jewish Life lecture series was established in 2013 by Norman Radow, who recently gave $9 million to the University, one of the largest gifts from a single donor in KSU’s history. In recognition of the contribution, Kennesaw State celebrated in September the naming of the Norman J. Radow College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
Radow said he established and named the Paul and Beverly Radow Lecture Series on Jewish Life to honor his parents, and the event was organized by the Department of Museums, Archives and Rare Books and RCHSS. The intent of the series is to share historical and contemporary stories related to Jewish life with the on- and off-campus community.
Norman Radow said Wednesday he had been particularly excited for Strug’s attendance, having witnessed her famous vault and his own daughter’s inspiration from it. Radow’s daughter has since become a champion gymnast and cheerleader.
“It’s all because of Kerri Strug,” he said. “That’s what one person can do, not just for themselves, but for others who watch them and are inspired by them.”
– Thomas Hartwell
Photos by Jason Getz
A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 45,000 students. Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia with 11 academic colleges. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 7 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.