Mary Lou Retton stands as an enduring figure in American sports history, achieving iconic status through her historic win at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. In that groundbreaking moment, she became the first American woman to secure the gold medal in the all-around gymnastics competition. Accompanied by two silver and two bronze medals, Retton emerged as the most decorated athlete of the Games, celebrated as a national hero embodying excellence, courage, and joy.
Behind the radiant smile and cheerful demeanor, however, Retton harbored a painful secret: a divorce from her husband of 27 years, Shannon Kelley. The couple, who tied the knot in 1990 and shared four daughters, filed for divorce in November 2017, concluding the process in February 2018. The public learned of Retton’s personal struggle in October 2018 when she disclosed the news on Dancing with the Stars, shortly before her elimination from the show.
This blog delves into Retton’s journey of coping with the challenges of divorce, shedding light on her resilience, lessons learned, and the rediscovery of happiness and self-worth. Additionally, it offers insights and advice for those navigating similar situations or supporting someone who is.
Why Retton and Kelley Divorced: Navigating Growing Apart
Retton and Kelley’s paths initially crossed as college athletes at the University of Texas, where Retton excelled in gymnastics, and Kelley in football. Their love story unfolded, leading to marriage after Retton’s retirement from gymnastics. Settling in Houston, Texas, they raised four daughters – Shayla, McKenna, Skyla, and Emma.
Despite outward appearances of a perfect marriage, the couple grappled with underlying issues that eventually strained their relationship. Retton emphasized that their divorce wasn’t triggered by a single moment but rather by a gradual drifting apart. Divergent interests, goals, and personalities, coupled with communication challenges and disparate parenting styles, contributed to the breakdown. Retton, feeling lonely and unfulfilled, attempted to salvage the marriage through counseling without success. Ultimately, she decided to end the union, recognizing her right to happiness and understanding that she couldn’t change her husband’s feelings.
How Retton Coped with Her Divorce: Drawing Support and Strength
Navigating her divorce proved to be one of Retton’s most arduous life experiences, marked by loneliness and fear. Coping with emotions such as anger, sadness, guilt, and shame, she faced challenges including adjusting to single life, co-parenting, and financial management.
Amidst these trials, Retton found solace and strength in the unwavering support of family, friends, and fans. Her daughters stood as pillars of strength, offering unconditional love and understanding. Parents, siblings, and close friends provided crucial support, lending listening ears and comforting words. Fans, too, expressed support through messages of love and gratitude.
Retton leaned on her faith, hobbies, and work for additional support. Prayer and Bible reading became sources of comfort, while engaging in activities that brought her joy – gardening, cooking, reading, and traveling – played vital roles. Professionally, as a motivational speaker, gymnastics coach, and health advocate, she used her platform to inspire and empower others.
How Retton Rediscovered Her Happiness and Self-Worth: Embracing Change and Growth
Rather than viewing her divorce solely as a challenge, Retton saw it as an opportunity for transformation and growth. The lessons she gleaned from the experience became catalysts for positive change in her life.
Retton embraced self-love by accepting, respecting, and caring for herself. Acknowledging flaws and mistakes, she forgave both herself and her ex-husband. Establishing healthy boundaries and goals, she prioritized her physical, mental, and emotional well-being through exercise, a balanced diet, sufficient sleep, and meditation.
Independence became a cornerstone of Retton’s post-divorce identity. Assuming responsibility for her happiness and well-being, she avoided dependency on external validation. Confidence in her abilities and talents empowered her, and she refused to let others define or limit her. Resourcefulness guided her in overcoming obstacles.
Authenticity took center stage in Retton’s post-divorce life. She committed to honesty, expressing her true self without pretense. Creativity thrived as she explored personal interests and passions, refusing to conform.
Optimism emerged as a guiding principle. Gratitude for life’s blessings, hope for the future, and a joyful approach to each moment became central tenets. Retton refused to let external circumstances steal her joy.
Conclusion: Mary Lou Retton, Survivor, and Thriver
Beyond her legendary status in sports, Mary Lou Retton stands as a symbol of resilience and thriving in the face of adversity. Her divorce became a pivotal point for positive transformation, inspiring others through her story and lessons. Retton shines as a hero, a star who not only overcame personal challenges but also radiates light to those around her.
For anyone undergoing a divorce or supporting someone in that journey, this blog aims to provide encouragement and insights. While divorce may be challenging, it signifies a new beginning, an opportunity for growth, learning, and ultimately, happiness and self-discovery.