Finding a new confidence through motherhood, MyKayla Skinner looks forward to cheering on Team USA in Paris and so much more

Finding a new confidence through motherhood, MyKayla Skinner looks forward to cheering on Team USA in Paris and so much more

By Christy Sandmaier

Three years ago we were getting ready to watch MyKayla Skinner’s journey to the Tokyo Olympic Games. Today, the Olympic silver medalist on vault is embracing her role as an entrepreneur, influencer, YouTuber, wife, and her greatest achievement yet, motherhood. In many ways, it’s exactly what she pictured, and in many others, it’s a dream that sometimes seemed so far away it was unattainable.

An alternate for Rio and two World Championships, MyKayla battled back onto the Elite scene in 2019 after forgoing her senior year at Utah. She faced an unprecedented Olympic delay, difficult side effects and both physical and mental setbacks after contracting COVID-19 in late 2020, bone spurs in 2021, and the inevitable question whether the training, long hours, and sacrifices would be all worth it in the end if she were to be named alternate, again

Following two dream days of competition in St.Louis at Olympic Trials where she finished fifth in the All-Around, MyKayla would go to Tokyo as one of Team USA’s individual quota qualifying spots (the other would go to Jade Carey). She would compete for the opportunity for individual medals and rotate with the team in Qualifications, though not contribute to the team’s total score or have the opportunity to stand on the podium with them celebrating a team medal. It was emotional at times and a somewhat uncertain journey at first, including the moment she heard her name called in a back room at The Dome at America’s Center.

“My coach Lisa (Spini) and I just looked at each other and couldn’t believe it!” she said. “It wasn’t what we were expecting, but I made it and was going to make the best of it! Obviously, it was hard at some points because it would have been really nice to compete for team, because that was my plan going into this. But I wasn’t going to have any regrets. I’ve wanted this ever since I was really little, so it was really special just to be able to go out there at the Olympics.”

MyKayla’s determination and drive not only saw her through all the way to the Games, it ended with her standing on the medal podium in the most unimaginable way.

When Qualifications in Tokyo came to an end, MyKayla thought her gymnastics career was over. After the heartbreak of finishing fourth on vault and out of the final due to the two-per-country rule, MyKayla was ready to board her flight home. Then she got the news: teammate Simone Biles was withdrawing from the vault final. In the blink of an eye, MyKayla was back in, with one more chance to make her dream of becoming an Olympic medalist come true. 

The day before the final, she posted a message for Biles on social media: “Doing this for us. It’s go time baby!” But this was for herself, too.

On the day of the vault final, when all the pressure in the world was on her shoulders, MyKayla delivered with the vaults of her life. And now she would forever be an Olympic silver medalist, defined by her story of inspiration and the ultimate in perseverance.

“I’m definitely forever grateful I never gave up,” she said. “Everything I’ve been through has definitely made me a stronger person, so I don’t know if I’d actually change anything. I know now I can get through any situation because I’ve been through so much.”

Months following the Games, seated on the floor during warmups for Simone Biles’ Athleta Presents Gold Over America Tour stop in Duluth, GA, I asked MyKayla how she felt about having 13 days to go on tour and what her career meant to her. Without hesitation, she took a deep breath and I could see tears in her eyes. “This is kind of my closing chapter and I think the last show is really going to hit hard,” she said. “Being with the girls has been a blast. It’s making memories for a lifetime.” 

For MyKayla especially, the tour allowed her the space to reflect on her love for gymnastics and what her journey meant to her. As she prepared to take the next step off the competition floor with a set of new goals and dreams on the horizon, all balanced with the realization that she was no longer regimented to a strict training schedule, she found herself doing a lot of soul searching.

“The second I was done, I was like, ‘oh, my gosh, this is the best thing ever.’ Seriously, like, I didn’t work out for a whole year, and I just kind of sat there,” she said.Jonas (Harmer, MyKayla’s husband) was like, ‘what is wrong with you?’ Because he was used to dating an athlete that works hard, motivated, dedicated, and I just didn’t want to do anything. I just kind of wanted to sit here and stare at the wall because I just was, like, never had that for a long time. You know what I mean?”

When asked if she ever missed the day-to-day training, the answer was an emphatic laugh and “no” though she admits it took awhile to find her new normal and be comfortable with who she was without gymnastics.

“My whole life has been gymnastics, so it was definitely, like a weird phase for a while. I miss doing the big tricks because that was my favorite, of course, and going out there and competing. But training? No!” she said. “Of course, the Olympics, for me, that was my goal. Especially coming back. That’s what I wanted so much. I feel like once I kind of started letting the pressure go from it and just really going out there and doing it because I love it and I want to be here. And if I make the Olympics great, if I don’t, I went and I pushed myself to limits that I thought I never was going to do again.”

Returning to school after the Games, the tour and earning her degree at the University of Utah, MyKayla took on the role of businesswoman and entrepreneur with her own line of leotards, motivational speaking, and her greatest joy, being a mom. On September 21, 2023, she and Jonas welcomed their first child. 

“Everyone welcome Lottie!” they wrote in a joint Instagram post. “Charlotte Jane Harmer made a safe arrival yesterday afternoon! Mom & baby are happy and healthy. We couldn’t ask for more.” 

MyKayla calls motherhood the best and hardest thing she’s ever done and has openly shared her journey across YouTube. Having her own daughter, she’s also realized even more how important it was to her to have her own parents by her side for support.

“Even when I’m at gymnastics meets now, I always tell the parents at the very end, thank you for being here and just showing up for your athletes. I would not have been the athlete I was without the love and support from my parents. And so just by having that, I want that for Charlotte. And so I think the biggest thing is just being that good example and just loving her no matter what.”

Finding her balance again once Charlotte arrived also opened new doors and new priorities. 

“Just going into motherhood and doing all the new things – I don’t just want to be part of the gymnastics world, I want to do more public speaking. I want to motivate a lot of people to never give up and keep chasing their dreams like I did. And if you keep doing that, anything is possible, anything can happen.” 

Whether she sees gymnastics in Charlotte’s future or not, remains to be seen.

“You know me with gymnastics and politics and all the things! And so sometimes I feel like I don’t know if I could have her in gymnastics because I can’t handle the politics, but it would just be so fun to start her in it, see if she likes it, see where she can go or whatever she ends up doing. I’m just so excited to be her cheerleader. And since I’ve been through so many hard and difficult things throughout my gymnastics career, I feel like I can just help her in so many different ways and be that example and lead her to success. And so I’m just so excited for that part because I have twelve nieces and nephews and I’ve just always loved kids, so it’s just so fun to see them in sports. I have a nephew in gymnastics right now. I just look at that and I feel I cannot wait to be that mom sitting in the stands like my sister and just cheering them on. I’m excited for the things that I’ve been through because it’s made me a stronger and tougher person and I think that I needed that.

“I feel like we all go through these trials because we’re meant to go through them. So I think just being that example to her, it’s going to be so fun and so cool. And I’m excited to go through those tough times with her that I had with my mom. I just really cherish those moments, even though it was hard and I don’t want to relive it, but I’m just so glad that I had that love and support system.”

In addition to soaking up as much time with Charlotte as she can, MyKayla has a few new dreams on her mind, including a writing book and more YouTube videos, and she’d love a spot on Dancing With the Stars if the stars align. She’s also been back in the gym just a bit, trying out skills for fun.

Part of her platform continues to include being a voice for the athletes, no matter the path or new projects she chooses, something enforced through her own series of competitions. The Never Give Up with MyKayla Skinner Invitational tour, hosted by LR Productions, a women’s gymnastics competition tour open to USA Gymnastics and NGA, levels 1-10 and Xcel, is one of her newest passions. MyKayla loves the opportunity to give back to young athletes and has enjoyed every minute meeting her fans along the way.

“Doing my meets with LR Productions has been a big one,” she said. “I’ve wanted to stay in the gymnastics world and just inspire the next generation of gymnasts just to never give up, keep chasing their dreams. What’s really cool about working with LR Productions is our meets are like a tour – we do different cities every year. We had one in Utah last year and then this year we had one in Arizona. I was able to get to know teams that I’m familiar with along with all the coaches. So that was really fun! It’s a lot of work because I’m there at every single session and being with the girls the entire time, going to each rotation and just checking in on them, motivating them. We have a really cute leo and we have really nice medals! It’s a really fun mee and it’s super cool and I’m so glad that I’ve been able to do that.”

Now with Tokyo’s silver lining shining in the distance and athletes all over the world gearing up for Paris, MyKayla remains focused on her new chapter off the floor though her athlete’s heart is very much in tune to everything that’s about to happen. She’s in awe of the women – her former teammates – competing for a spot in Paris and is especially proud of the athletes balancing both an NCAA and Elite career. 

“It’s inspiring to see these gymnasts keep going in college gymnastics and Elite to keep pursuing their dreams and know that you can do both…  With Elite gymnastics, I feel like we’d be so burnt out, which made it hard for a lot of athletes to be able to go to college, to even start that process. When I came back, I still worked my butt off, I was still busting out routines. So it’s not like I was cutting back and not doing numbers – I was trying to keep up with everybody else. But the fact that I didn’t have to train seven hours a day, you know what I mean? My body was older, I knew gymnastics. And so I think that was really cool. To watch these girls go from college to Elite and see that they can do it, it just really makes me so happy. It’s so cool to see that in this sport that you can do both and that these girls are able to go and chase their dreams.”

And her message to the athletes striving for the Paris team and those about to embark on their own journey of lifetime?

“Just go out there and do it because you love it. Have fun with it. See where it takes you. Enjoy the moment, be present and cheer each other on. Just love it. I love seeing these Elite gymnasts really taking in that college route of cheering each other on, having that sisterhood, being there for each other, being excited when you hit that routine and just seeing the comments on social media, everybody’s loving it. I love seeing these girls actually feel like they accomplish something after they hit that routine. So I think just being there, enjoying it, having fun, and most importantly, the biggest thing for me was just having confidence. Once I found that confidence in myself, it made the biggest difference in my gymnastics. And just believing in yourself, trusting the process, and just going out there and just doing what you can do and not holding back. Gymnastics is a tough sport and I want to see these girls succeed in every way that they can. So just trying to be that inspiration to so many girls is the most important thing for me. I love that.”

Follow MyKayla on YouTube!

Inside Gymnastics has a promotional partnership with LR Productions, referenced in this article.

Photos by Ricardo Bufolin for Inside Gymnastics; LR Productions

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