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Olympic Gymnast Nastia Liukin: How I Uncap My Potential

By: Grace Gavilanes

In honor of the launch of Vital Proteins new Collagen Water™, we’re kicking off a weekly series on Lively called “How I Uncap My Potential,” where we feature amazing women doing incredible things in their field. Today, we’re spotlighting Olympic gymnast Nastia Liukin. The NBC commentator and Dancing with the Stars alum gets candid about her life post-Olympics, shares the best advice her mom gave her (which we're sure you'll love, too!), and lets us in on her top VP product picks. 

Interview with Olympic Gymnast Nastia Liukin

Lively: You've achieved so much at such a young age. When did you first realize you had found your passion?

Nastia Liukin: Both of my parents were gymnasts. My dad competed at the 1988 Games, won two gold and two silver medals. My mom was a world champion, so I think I probably fell in love with the sport of gymnastics before I really even realized it. My parents really wanted me to try a lot of different things especially because they were both gymnasts, too, and I’m the only child. They never really pressured me to do gymnastics. They really wanted me to follow my own passion and my own love. At such an early age, I truly fell in love with the sport. I started gymnastics around 2 or 3 years old. I started competing when I was 6 years old, and by then, I definitely knew that was my passion. So, really, really early. And I think that that’s not the case with everyone. I really try to encourage people to try multiple things because it is so important to find something that you’re passionate about. 

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nastia liukin

L: That’s so great that you found your passion at such an early age.

NL: Super early on, I never imagined that doing something I love to do – and when I was so young, it really was like a big playground for me – and I loved it because it was fun. I loved learning new skills. I loved the challenge. I really never thought it would bring me to where I am today. I was very lucky that something that I was so passionate about kind of created a career for me.

L: You've had a super well-rounded post-Olympic journey so far. Was that intentional? Were you interested in exploring other areas?

NL: Yeah. Especially when I “retired” from the sport at 22. Gymnastics is such an interesting sport because you peak when you’re about 16 to 18 and in real life, you’re really just figuring out who you are as a person. And you have the rest of your life to live. [I accomplished] my lifelong dream at the age of 18 – and while it was incredible and amazing, it was scary at the same time because that’s all I knew. It was the only dream and goal I had basically my whole entire life until that moment. That made me realize if I have a goal and I have a dream, then anything can happen. I can achieve these things that at times seem really unattainable or unachievable. The lesson I learned is that you can really do anything you set your mind to. I learned a lot from that, but it really was like starting over. Or I guess it wasn’t starting over but continuing this next chapter – the continuous part of my life.

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I was really excited to try new things but at the same time gymnastics is something I’m still super passionate about. For instance, since I commentate for NBC, I’ll be going to Tokyo next year to commentate for the Olympics. That’s really awesome because I love being able to be involved in those things and being on the other side of the camera. It’s kind of the same thing with Dancing with the Stars. When the opportunity came up, it was just something that I thought, “you might never get this opportunity again, so why not?”

nastia liukin

L: Is there a quote or mantra you live by whenever things get difficult?

NL: Yes! We all have those days, no matter what industry you are in. My mom taught me when I was a little girl, she would always tell me, “You can never quit on a bad day.” At first, it didn’t quite resonate with me, but it really did eventually. There were times in my career when I really wanted to quit gymnastics or just do something else because it was hard, or I was frustrated, or I had a bad day. It is frustrating when you’re an athlete, but really for anybody. I think it’s human nature to just want to throw your hands up in the air and say “I quit” when things don’t go your way.

There would be times when I came home from the gym and kind of told her, “I don’t want to do this anymore. I want to quit.” And really, it was after the bad day. And I think she started catching on to that, so she would always say, “That’s totally fine, you can quit but not today.” She would make me go back to the gym the next day and the next day until I had a good day. And finally, because moms know when we have a good day without us telling them, she would be like, “Okay, now that you had a good day, you can quit, and we’ll find something else you want to do.” And I’d always say, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I never said I wanted to quit.” It kind of became this golden rule because now I can apply it to so many things in my life, whether it’s working on a new project in a new business, relationships – just your life. Like I said, it’s human nature to just want to give up or quit on a good day. It’s kind of reminding myself to not make such a drastic decision after a bad day, and that has really been helpful. 

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L: Is there anything you'd like to tell your younger self?

NL: To be really simple: Enjoy and live in the moment. When I was 9, I wanted to be 10 because I wanted to be in the double digits. And then I wanted to be 13 because I wanted to be a teenager. And then 16 because I wanted to drive, and 18 to be an adult. It just felt like I kept wanting to rush through it … My younger self just wanted to rush through life as opposed to truly living in the moment. I’ve been trying to be more mindful of that and trying to enjoy every single moment. I know that’s so cliché, but as I kind of reflect back a little bit on my younger self and younger life, that’s kind of the thing that stands out to me. Not that I regret anything or wish to go back in time, but just trying to slow down a little bit.

nastia liukin

L: That’s so relatable. It’s so funny thinking about that now like, "what I would give to be 17 again!"

NL: For sure! Whether it’s about ages or moments – I mean, gosh, what I would do to go back to Beijing at the Olympics standing with my teammates and really trying to soak it in more rather than trying to rush through it.

L: Of course, we need to know: How do you "Uncap Your Potential"? 

NL: Visualizing that dream and that goal and making a vision board. And again, this is going to sound so cliché, but I’ve always really believed in the law of attraction. If there’s a certain thing you’re trying to achieve, you have to believe that you’ve already achieved it. And obviously, that’s one part of it. The other part of it is a lot of hard work and dedication. I think achieving that big dream at such an early time kind of taught me that. Yeah, it was really, really hard and there were days that I thought and questioned, “Is this going to be worth it?” But I think being able to reflect back on what I was able to do at such a young age, has really made me believe and realize that any dream and any goal really is possible no matter what anyone tells you. I kind of dealt with that throughout my career, dealing with injuries, and just bad competitions. People would start writing me off or telling me that I wasn’t going to be able to achieve those dreams and goals. At times, it got in my head a little bit until that became a lesson that I learned. Stop listening to others around you that don’t really know you, love you, or support you. Surround yourself with people who are going to support those dreams and goals. 

L: You're a big fan of Vital Proteins. How do you incorporate our products into your daily routine?

NL: I’m on the road pretty much every single week. I’m normally not really home in L.A. for more than 3-5 days at once. Basically, I travel every single week, so I love the little Collagen Peptides stick packs because they’re super easy to travel with. I use it every single morning in my coffee. I just drink my coffee black and I just add those in if I’m in an airplane, hotel, wherever I am. That’s super easy. My other favorite product is the Matcha Collagen. I love being able to have that in the middle of the day, between 1 P.M. and 3 P.M. I’ll just make a matcha latte and I’ll add steamed almond milk to that and it’s just a great little pick-me-up to get me through the rest of my day no matter what I have going in.

Photos: @nastialiukin/Instagram