Former Olympic Gymnasts Nastia Liukin and Alicia Quinn to Face Off in The Big Fight (Against Suicide) 

Gladiator-Style Fitness Competition to Benefit Anxiety, Depression & Suicide Prevention, Livestreams March 6, 2021, 3PM PT

ABOUT THE EVENT

According to a recent report from the CDC, over 40% of the adults in the US are currently struggling with mental health and substance abuse, and 11% have had serious suicidal thoughts in the last 30 days. On Saturday, March 6, former Team USA Olympic Gymnastics teammates Nastia Liukin and Alicia Quinn will participate in The Big Fight (Against Suicide), a livestreamed gladiator-style fitness competition to raise awareness and support for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Anxiety & Depression Association of America

The exclusive livestream event features Liukin and Quinn and their respective teams competing in a combination of functional fitness and spartan race-like events. Tickets for the virtual event are available at bigfight.us at an early bird rate of $19. Fifty percent of the proceeds raised from the fun and challenging fitness competition will go to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Anxiety & Depression Association of America. 

“Between the pandemic and its stressors of isolation, loneliness and unemployment and our divisive political climate, this year has been hard on everyone,” said Nerissa Zhang, creator of The Big Fight. “Being alone isn’t healthy and it’s time we talk about the dramatic increase in anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation. This is the season of giving and we must all find a way to connect and bring back some hope and love. We’re thrilled to see Nastia and Alicia champion the cause.” 

Inside Gymnastics chatted with both Liukin and Quinn (who was actually on the elliptical “upping her cardio game” as we spoke!) about the event and their goals, as well as the related personal struggles each has faced. Championing a cause so near and dear to their hearts has been a welcome opportunity they say, and one they are eager to share with the gymnastics community and beyond.

Inside Gymnastics interview by Christy Sandmaier

What was it about this cause and this event that truly spoke to you?

Nastia Liukin: There were multiple things. Fitness, of course, because I was an athlete for so many years. But more importantly, as an athlete in that transition period, it was probably one of the hardest times in my life trying to figure out who I was as a person – not just Nastia the gymnast and the Olympic gold medalist. It was a giant transition that I had to overcome.

I’m just really proud to bring awareness to the cause and normalize talking about mental health. So many people who have struggles like this don’t necessarily feel comfortable talking about it. I think people feel very alone thinking they’re the only one feeling struggles. Having the platform I have, I feel a responsibility to bring awareness to this. Obviously, in the unprecedented times we’re living, even if you don’t have a platform, it’s important to extend yourself to others. So, when I had the opportunity to do this with one of my closest friends and teammates, I was very, very excited.

Alicia Sacramone Quinn: Being a high-level athlete, you feel immense pressure during competition and during training. Anxiety is something that I battled during my career. I may not have shown it or talked to many people about it, but I had crippling anxiety weeks before competition. I would melt down. I couldn’t do anything in the gym. I would be self-sabotaging, so I would protect myself if I didn’t do well. It would drive my coach crazy. So, I feel like that really tugged at my heartstrings, and then after having kids, I struggled with some postpartum depression. At the time, I was embarrassed because I felt as an athlete, you should be able to handle your emotions and handle all of the stuff life was throwing at me. I struggled and didn’t tell anybody about it. Brady thought I was maybe struggling with postpartum and he was right. 

So, I just wanted to do my part letting people know that it’s okay to admit that you’re struggling and admit you need help. And that people are there to help you and want to get you through the tough times and get to a better place. It’s important to me to share my journey and let people see that even though I’m a public figure and it might look like I have my life together all the time, I have struggles just like everyone else.

When you retired from competition, did you struggle with your identity outside of the arena?

NL: For me, that transition of being an Olympic athlete to normal life was one of the struggles I faced, but at the same time, everybody faces struggles. It doesn’t have to be something as huge as going from being an Olympic athlete to not, it can be a daily struggle. I was looking at the studies that have been published by the CDC over the summer and just the numbers were really astounding to me. I obviously knew that mental health struggles were everywhere but I think more so in a time like this. I’m so honored to hopefully be able to use my platform, my voice, for something that is just so important to me.

ASQ: Oh, for sure. I’m still trying to figure out who I am without gymnastics and what I like to do, what my next goal and passion is. It’s an ongoing process and I went through it again after having kids. I love my children and they’re amazing but I had to find myself again so I could be the best person and mom for them.

Alicia, as a mom, how do you balance everything you need to accomplish and be the best person, especially on those days when you just don’t feel like yourself…  and right now during a pandemic?

You’re trying to be a wife, a mother and a teacher – it’s so much. You need to give yourself a break and just love your kids. The best thing you can do at the end of the day is let your children know they are loved. That’s all that matters. School will eventually be back in session. They’re going to pick up where they left off. You need to take mental breaks. You need to go outside and just think about things that bring you joy and just remind yourself you’re alive, you’re healthy, and that people want to help you. You don’t need to do it alone.

Often the first step for so many people is being able to ask for help. How difficult is that for you during an especially stressful time?

ASQ: I’m a very prideful person. I hate asking for help. I took me a lot to accept letting Brady take the reins on some things, letting my friends and family help out, to say you know what, I do need a little bit of help to make this day run smoother. In my mind, I would tell myself I could handle it because I went to the Olympics, I had three kids, a number of surgeries… at the end of the day I’d try and hype myself up and then be emotionally drained trying to be the best. It’s that internal struggle of perfection which crossed over from gymnastics. I needed to learn to give myself a break and be human and make mistakes, so I could learn from those mistakes and be the best version of myself.

How are both of you preparing for March 6? Is there any lingering competitiveness? 

ASQ: I have mixed in some of my gymnastics like core training. It’s going to be a mix of events so just switching it up a bit – some cross-training, weights, cardio. It’s amazing – it’s obviously going to be a mix of gymnastics and some surprises, too. We’re excited. It’s been a minute since we’ve battled each other, which it was never really a battle. We’re more excited just to see each other.

NL: I’m doing a little bit of everything. Strength training, a little bit of running, jump-roping, some gymnastics. I went into WOGA this week… so yes, a little bit of everything. I climbed the rope – I haven’t done that since 2012 when I was training for Olympic Trials! It’s been challenging, but fun to get back in the actual gymnastics gym along with doing stuff at my home gym as well. Being able to train for something again has been really fun for me!

[Alicia’s] obviously incredibly busy being an incredible mom, and trainer and everything else she has on her plate. We talk very, very often. It’s definitely all about having fun but at the same time, we’re both very competitive. We’ve always been so different as athletes but now, both having moved on, we’re both very much into having a healthy lifestyle and taking care of our bodies and our minds. We always talked that “we” would make the perfect gymnast – I’ll do bars and beam and she’ll do vault and floor, we’ll be the perfect duo and we’ll both be happy! So yes, it’s been a long time, but we’re so, so excited for this.

Your entire 2008 team has really come into their own. All of you have such amazing platforms and projects going on. Do you feel you’ve really found your voice in the causes you want to champion?

ASQ: Our whole team, we really are just looking to help others. Whether that is pursuing a comeback like Chellsie’s doing or with me training clients to get them in the best shape they want to be in, Nastia with her abundance of things that are so empowering for women, Sam staying in the gymnastics realm… I’m so proud of them all. I remember when we were little juniors and now seeing them as adult women accomplishing so much, makes me so proud. 

What are the ultimate goals you have for The Big Fight?

ASQ: The biggest thing I would love is that we get a strong viewership because part of the proceeds are going to spread awareness and normalize mental health, and really help amazing foundations that are doing so much. In this day and age, depression and anxiety, and suicides, are at an all-time high. So making it normal that it’s okay to be struggling but people want to help you. Help is available if you just reach out and try to find it.

NL: Regardless of the competition and the competitive side of things, for me, it will be mission-accomplished to bring awareness and have people know they’re not alone and know that it’s okay to talk about it. It’s okay to not be okay. Saying that, I feel, can go a long way. In the world we live in now, where we’re not having that face-to-face interaction and everything is so digital and on social media – so many people feel looking at someone’s social media that their life is perfect, and it’s not. At the end of the day, it’s a lot more than just a pretty picture on your Instagram. Getting the opportunity to talk about something that is so important to me has meant a lot to me.

Nastia Liukin is the 2008 Olympic All-Around champion, a five-time Olympic medalist, the 2005 and 2007 world champion on the balance beam, and the 2005 world champion on the uneven bars. She is also a four-time all-around U.S. national champion, winning twice as a junior and twice as a senior. Alicia Sacramone Quinn won a silver medal with the United States team at the 2008 Summer Olympics and is the second-most decorated American gymnast in World Championship history, with ten medals.

2008 Olympics Team Competition photo by Grace Chiu for Inside Gymnastics magazine.

All additional photos courtesy of VineSprout Public Relations

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