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How Grace McCallum’s faith helped her become an Olympian

A devout Catholic, McCallum credits her faith with helping her throughout her gymnastics career not to mention making the U.S. women’s gymnastics team

Grace McCallum competes on the floor at the U.S. Olympic Trials.
Grace McCallum competes in the floor exercise during the women’s U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Trials Sunday, June 27, 2021, in St. Louis.
Jeff Roberson, Associated Press

It still hasn’t hit Grace McCallum just yet that she is an Olympian.

She honestly didn’t think she’d be one, not after breaking her hand in January, an injury that required a plate and seven screws just to stabilize her broken left pinkie finger. She didn’t begin training on all four women’s gymnastics events again until late April, a mere two months before Olympic Trials.

So as she stood inside her home gym in Champlin, Minnesota, on Monday fielding questions from CBS Minnesota’s Katie Steiner, she couldn’t really say all that much. Her Olympic experience to this point has just been too surreal.

“When I got injured, I thought that my Olympic dreams kind of went down the drain,” McCallum told Steiner. “I was really sad about that.”

Throughout her life, though, McCallum has leaned heavily on her faith. A devout Catholic, she believes she has God-given talent and that it is her responsibility to showcase it.

“I have this talent that God gave me and want to do everything I can to show people what I’ve been given,” she said.

So even though her dream seemed all but dead, McCallum worked to keep her Olympic hopes alive. And after finishing fourth in the all-around competition at trials, she was named to the four-woman U.S. team.

“It is surreal,” McCallum said. “All my hard work has paid off.”

McCallum, described to NBC Sports by her coach Sarah Jantzi as “very quiet and shy,” hasn’t been reserved when talking about her faith. She is quick to note that it has been a boon to her throughout her career.

“It has helped me a ton,” McCallum said. “It has kept me grounded in who I am. I don’t think I’ve changed at all (since making the Olympic team) and I don’t want to change.”

She also believes her faith has helped her in competition, focusing her mind on the task at hand. Like many athletes, she strives to take things “day by day.”

“(My faith) has helped me in competition,” McCallum said. “My parents always tell me just to compete for an audience of ‘one.’”

Usually, McCallum attends church sometime before meets, along with her parents, who’ve never missed one of her competitions. That won’t be the case in Tokyo, so McCallum expects to rely on her faith all the more.

“I’ll really be leaning on my faith,” she said. “My dad is sending me a couple of prayers to say before each practice in the morning. I think that will be really helpful to keep me at peace and calm while I’m there.”

McCallum’s gymnastics itself remains a work in progress, not only because she is still making her way back from injury, but also because she has grown considerably taller over the last two years, a growth spurt that has required her to rework many of her routines.

“One of the things with Grace is she has had to adapt to her height change. She has grown quite a bit, so she threw off some of her timing and skills,” said Tom Farden, McCallum’s future college coach at the University of Utah. “She has handled it brilliantly and I think they suit her better. She is obviously coached by some of the best in world, so the subtle things that she has done and added are for the better. Her gymnastics looks more fluid and a good level of artistry with it.”

In the build-up to the Olympics, McCallum has trained to be even better than she was at trials, not only to help the four-woman team win a gold medal, but because she hopes to medal as an individual if she can.

“I have been focusing on getting all my routines perfected, upping my endurance on floor, playing with a few things on bars, working on consistency and form on beam and my power on vault,” McCallum said. “I want to really get the good routines that I want to show. The goal is to make all the event finals for the team and to contribute any way that I can. I want to get an individual medal, but we’ll see.”

Even if that goal doesn’t come true, McCallum will still be thrilled, though. After all, seven months ago the dream of going to Tokyo seemed all but dead.

“It has been such an honor,” she said. “I feel so blessed. Not a lot of people get that. I just feel super blessed that I’ve been given this amazing opportunity to go and just want to enjoy the experience.”