Who is Mary Lou Retton? Everything to know about the American gymnastics icon


American gymnast icon Mary Lou Retton is currently facing a serious health battle, as revealed by her daughter, McKenna Kelley. In this article, we will delve into the life and career of this American gymnastics legend, Mary Lou Retton, exploring her journey from Olympic glory to her family and accomplishments beyond the gymnastics arena.

Early Life and Inspiration

Mary Lou Retton was born on January 24, 1968, making her 55 years old as of now. She hails from Fairmont, West Virginia. Her fascination with gymnastics was ignited by the remarkable performance of Romanian gymnast Nadia Comăneci at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. Following her dreams, Mary Lou relocated to Houston, where she trained under the guidance of renowned gymnastics coaches Béla and Márta Károlyi, who also coached Comăneci in Romania.

Olympic Success

Retton’s claim to fame came during the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. At the age of 16, she made history by becoming the first American woman to win a gold medal in the all-around competition. This remarkable achievement not only earned her a spot on the front of Wheaties cereal boxes but also captured the hearts of millions of Americans. Her road to victory was not without challenges, as she had undergone knee surgery just six weeks prior to the Olympics. However, she persevered, scoring perfect 10s on floor exercise and vault, narrowly defeating Romania’s Ecaterina Szabo by a mere 0.05 points.

In addition to her all-around gold, Mary Lou Retton also clinched a silver medal on vault and bronze medals on the uneven bars and floor exercise. She further contributed to the team’s success, earning another silver Olympic medal in the team event. Her impressive haul of five medals at the 1984 Olympic Games made her a national treasure and one of America’s most beloved athletes. In recognition of her achievements, she was named Sports Illustrated’s “Sportswoman of the Year” in 1984.

Retirement and Legacy

Following her triumphant performance at the 1984 Olympics, Mary Lou Retton continued to shine in gymnastics by winning the American Cup all-around competition in 1985, which marked her third victory in the event. Despite her success, she retired from the sport in 1986, with the 1988 Olympics in Seoul on the horizon. She was inducted into the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Hall of Fame in 1985 and the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame in 1997.

In her own words, she wanted to be remembered as a winner and a champion rather than an athlete who struggled to let go of the sport. This mindset guided her retirement decision.

Beyond gymnastics, Mary Lou Retton made appearances in various TV shows and films, including “Knots Landing” (1992), “Baywatch” (1993), “Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult” (1994), and “Glee” (2010). She also showcased her talent on the dance floor in season 27 of “Dancing With The Stars” and has become a motivational speaker and television analyst.

Family Life

Mary Lou Retton was married to former University of Texas quarterback Shannon Kelley from 1990 to 2018. They share four daughters: Shayla (28), McKenna (26), Skyla (23), and Emma (21). Interestingly, all of her daughters have followed in her footsteps, pursuing athletic careers. Shayla was a member of Baylor University’s Acrobatics and Tumbling team, McKenna competed for the LSU Tigers gymnastics team, Skyla is a competitive cheerleader, and Emma currently competes for the University of Arkansas gymnastics team.


Mary Lou Retton’s life and career have been nothing short of extraordinary. From her groundbreaking success in gymnastics to her achievements in various fields, she has left an indelible mark on American sports and entertainment. Her legacy continues through her children, who have inherited her passion for athleticism.

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What is Mary Lou Retton’s most significant achievement in gymnastics?

Mary Lou Retton’s most significant achievement in gymnastics was winning the all-around gold medal at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, becoming the first American woman to do so.

How many Olympic medals did Mary Lou Retton win?

Mary Lou Retton won five Olympic medals, including one gold, one silver, and three bronze, at the 1984 Olympics.

What inspired Mary Lou Retton to pursue gymnastics?

Mary Lou Retton was inspired to pursue gymnastics by watching Romanian gymnast Nadia Comăneci’s gold-winning performance at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal.

When did Mary Lou Retton retire from gymnastics?

Mary Lou Retton retired from gymnastics in 1986, ahead of the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.

What are Mary Lou Retton’s daughters involved in?

Mary Lou Retton’s daughters are actively involved in various sports and athletic activities, including gymnastics, cheerleading, and acrobatics.

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