When Grace McCallum steps up to compete Friday night when No. 4 Utah hosts No. 13 Oregon State, she will have thousands cheering her on.

None will be more invested than an Oregon State gymnast decked out in some variation of orange and black.

And when Jade Carey competes for the first time in her collegiate career in front of thousands of Utes faithful, there will be a Utah gymnast hanging on her every move.

Carey and McCallum are household names, known by millions across the world. Olympians, with gold and silver medals, respectively, from the Tokyo Games, the pair are among the best gymnasts there are today.

They will be competing on opposite sides this weekend — McCallum for Utah and Carey for Oregon State, in a clash between Pac-12 foes — but they will be each other’s biggest fans.

Carey and McCallum are the best of friends.

How it started

The U.S. women’s national gymnastics team poses after the U.S. Gymnastics Championships, Sunday, Aug. 19, 2018, in Boston. From left are Grace McCallum, Trinity Thomas, Riley McCusker, Shilese Jones, Morgan Hurd, Kara Eaker, Simone Biles and Jade Carey. | Elise Amendola, Associated Press

Neither Carey nor McCallum are exactly sure when they first met. It could have been late in 2016 or early in 2017.

What they do know is that it happened at U.S. women’s national team camp, and neither was exactly the definition of grace.

The now 21-year old Carey was 15 or 16 at time, while the now 19-year old McCallum was 13 or 14. Shy and reserved, they were nearly identical, which made for an interesting first meeting.

“When I first met her, honestly, we were both kind of the same,” Carey told the Deseret News. “Both shy and quiet, so I feel like we were probably pretty awkward when we first started talking to each other.”

Awkward or not, there was an immediate connection. Carey and McCallum were drawn to each other, and it just worked.

“We just kind of clicked right away,” McCallum said. “I always do better around people that are more easygoing, not high stress people, and she is a very low stress person. You just get that kind of vibe off of her, and that makes you feel less stressed.”

It took little time for Carey and McCallum to become inseparable at national team camps, events and competitions, whether they were foreign or domestic.

USA Gymnastics holds national team camps monthly — each is about five days long, save for the ones used to select teams for competitions — and gymnasts request who they want to room with.

One month in, how is Grace McCallum doing at Utah?
Grace McCallum’s perfect 10 drew the attention of Simone Biles

From the moment they met, Carey and McCallum requested each other, and it didn’t take long for the powers that be to realize that there was no need to field future requests from either.

“After like the first three times they kind of got it,” McCallum said. “It was like, ‘OK, let’s just put them together.’”

“Everyone got the idea eventually,” Carey said. “Even traveling internationally. If we both made a team, everyone knew we were going to room together.”

Rooming together only made the pair grow closer, as did shared competitions such as the U.S. Classic, the American Classic and the U.S. Gymnastics Championships.

International trips, such as the Pan American Championships and the World Championships, were especially impactful, as Carey and McCallum spent weeks together at time (a month in the case of the Olympics).

“When you room with someone, you get really close,” McCallum said. “Me and Jade are really, really close.”

When not at camps or competitions, Carey and McCallum went home to Phoenix, Arizona (Carey), and Isanti, Minnesota (McCallum), but they never lost contact.

And once a month, they were together again at national team camp.

“We just kept in contact with each other,” McCallum, said. “We’d be with each other at camps all the time, and after camps we would just check in and see how the other was doing.”

How it’s going

Utah’s Grace McCallum competes on balance beam against Arizona State; Oregon State’s Jade Carey competes on floor exercise against UCLA and UC Davis. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News; Amanda Loman, Associated Press

Carey and McCallum didn’t talk all that often about NCAA gymnastics during their time together with the U.S. national team. In addition to being shy and reserved, both gymnasts are incredibly committed to their craft, which goes a long way to explain their elite pedigrees.

There were instances, though, when their respective futures as college athletes came up and their decisions to attend Oregon State and Utah, respectively, were good news.

“We were really excited when we both committed to Pac-12 schools because we knew we’d compete against each other at least two times a year,” Carey said. “We still wanted to be able to see each other, and I’m really glad that we get to do that a lot.”

The transition to life as college gymnasts has been an entirely new experience for them, and they are currently in the midst of their longest separation since they met (Carey and McCallum were last together in November during the post-Olympics Gold over America Tour).

“We are definitely both very busy now and adjusting to our new lives in college,” Carey said. “We still talk at least every week, and I know we watch each other on TV if we can. We really try to keep up with each other that way.”

Carey missed McCallum’s perfect 10 on bars against UCLA, and McCallum missed Carey’s perfect 10 on bars against Arizona State — the meets were at roughly the same time on Feb. 4 — but both have been thrilled by what they’ve seen from each other so far.

“(Jade) has been doing amazing. I’m so proud of her,” McCallum said. “It is awesome watching her succeed and do so well in the college world, because it is so different from elite. I can’t wait to see what the season brings for her. She can accomplish big things.”

“I’ve loved watching (Grace) so far,” Carey said. “I can tell that she is having a lot of fun. I’m really happy for her for that. Competing in elite can be so intense that sometimes we kind of forget to have fun and just enjoy it.

“I can really see that she is going out and giving it her best and really enjoying what she is doing.”

Carey has been more successful so far — she is the top-ranked all-around gymnast in the country and ranked in the top 10 in every event, while McCallum is tied for No. 23 on vault — but there is only support between the two.

“I’m so proud of (Grace), because if an event doesn’t go well, she has been bouncing back,” Carey said. “She has been doing that really well.”

Both gymnasts are ecstatic to finally see each other again, even if their reunion will be limited to the floor of the Huntsman Center (visiting teams are usually in and out of cities, and when they aren’t, they are with their own team, which leaves very little time for socializing).

“We are both so excited,” McCallum said. “We are just excited to see each other again. We did see each other on tour, but that was a couple of months ago. We get to see each other again and in a different environment than what we are used to, with national team camps, elite meets or international meets.”

“It feels like it has been a long time,” Carey added. “We are used to seeing each other once a month. I am really excited to see her again and compete against her. Competing against her will be pretty weird, but I think it will be a lot of fun.”

When you’re the best of friends

Members of the U.S. Women’s Olympic Gymnastic Team, from left, Simone Biles, Suni Lee, Jordan Chiles, and Grace McCallum plus individual members MyKayla Skinner and Jade Carey are announced after the U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Trials Sunday, June 27, 2021, in St. Louis. | Jeff Roberson, Associated Press

Carey and McCallum have unique perspective about one another that few if any know or understand.

Each believes the other is hilarious and cannot help but smile and laugh when thinking about it.

“(Jade) is a very quiet person, but she has a really good sense of humor, which I don’t think many people get to see,” McCallum said. “That is one thing that people don’t know about her, unless they are really close with her. She just comes up with the most clever things to say. They are just funny.”

“I honestly would have to say the same thing (about Grace),” Carey said. “We are both very shy and quiet, but not when we are together. We become loud, crazy and funny. People haven’t seen a whole lot of that side of us together.”

Unsurprisingly, both gymnasts view the other as a role model, and are more impressed with their friend’s achievements than their own.

“I’ve always been impressed by just how determined (Jade) is,” McCallum said. “Just how hard she works in the gym. She is a genuinely good person and very humble about all of her success.”

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“One thing that has always impressed me about (Grace), especially in gymnastics, is her calmness and consistency,” Carey said. “At the Olympics, in the team finals, she started us off on every single event. That says a lot about her.

“We knew she could go up, get the meet started for everyone and get the job done. I just loved seeing her fight. She never gives up and she always wants to get better and better and be the best that she can.”

After this weekend, Carey and McCallum will get to see each other one more time this season — unless both Utah and Oregon State are slotted into the same NCAA regional — at the Pac-12 championships in West Valley City.

But despite their new circumstances, and the months apart on opposing teams, they are, and remain, the best of friends.

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