The day MyKayla Skinner was flying over the vault in Tokyo, the Arizona flag was flying over the state capitol in Phoenix. That may not seem unusual, but this particular flag was in honor of Skinner and her quest for an Olympic medal. Arizona state Sen. Steve Smith hoisted it up himself.
At a private banquet, Smith presented the flag to Skinner for “being an inspiration and for her patriotism to the United States of America.”
Arizona state Sen. Warren Petersen also presented Skinner with a prestigious award to recognize her achievements and hard work. He said she is a “role model for young girls that aspire to follow in your path. You are an inspiration.”
Petersen represents the legislative district that includes Skinner’s hometown of Gilbert. He believes that she has the opportunity to influence others who wish to achieve their dreams through perseverance.
“I want to help MyKayla make that happen,” Petersen said.
He invited Skinner to speak at the opening of the next legislative session in January. Petersen also asked the audience to drive by the town’s water tower after the event. It was illuminated in red, white and blue in honor of the Olympic athletes from Gilbert.
Skinner also received a national award, a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition from U.S. Congressman Andy Biggs. He was unable to attend the banquet, so Smith gave it to Skinner, along with a flag that had flown over the U.S. Capitol.
Skinner’s coaches spoke about her long journey to the Olympics. Lisa Spini, head coach and owner of Desert Lights Gymnastics, has coached Skinner since she was 11 years old. After listing some of Skinner’s accomplishments, Spini recalled the Olympic roller coaster that she has ridden with Skinner, who missed a shot at the 2012 London Olympics before being named alternate to the 2016 Rio de Janeiro team.
“Gymnastics is a very subjective sport. It’s not always fair,” Spini said. “You have to fight for a spot, and MyKayla encouraged every other athlete to fight for the same spot, always.”
Spini also gave a nod to Skinner’s successful NCAA career at the University of Utah.
“She was Academic All-American as well. That’s what I’m most proud of,” Spini said.
Skinner will be returning to Utah to complete her senior year of studies, although she will not be competing.
Another coach, Neela Nelson, recalled seeing young Skinner for the first time as she competed at a Level 8 gymnastics meet.
“MyKayla had a bad day. She came in dead last in the entire meet,” Nelson said.
It would be the last time that happened.
“It only took one year for her to go from Level 8 to Elite gymnast,” Nelson said. “She worked incredibly hard and never complained.”
Throughout the evening, Skinner’s smile lit up the room as each of the speakers focused on her strong character. Skinner has been a team player who constantly builds up other gymnasts.
In June, she was named Sportsperson of the Year by her peers.
“One of her greatest qualities is her kindness and care for others,” Nelson said. “There is only one MyKayla.”
When Skinner stood to speak, she received a standing ovation.
“I was born dead,” Skinner began, joking that she can overcome anything. She thanked her parents, Kym and Cris, for their years of sacrifice to make her dream possible. Skinner also thanked her sister Chelsea, who “has been my rock,” and her husband Jonas, who helped as she struggled with COVID-19, pneumonia and a painful bone spur during the pandemic.
“I could feel all of you cheering me on as I competed,” Skinner told the audience.
Skinner recounted her disappointment when the “two per country” rule kept her out of the individual competition before she replaced Simone Biles on vault.
“After the (Olympic) prelims I felt like after all I’ve been through, why can’t I be good enough?” Skinner said. “But I’m so grateful for my trials. I’m unstoppable. I can do anything I want to do.”
Coach Bob Peterson has been Skinner’s spotter during dangerous flips and twists. He expressed his confidence in Skinner’s ability to perform well.
“I never had a single doubt,” he said.
He summed up the feelings of everyone in the room with just two words.
Evelyn Hendrix is a contributor for the Deseret News.