Letters To A Young Gymnast by Nadia Comaneci

letters to a young gymnast
ISBN: 0233003266
Date Finished: May 2018
Did I Like It? 9/10

The books Amazon Page

This is a great book! The title is niche and Nadia refers to letters throughout the book. BUT this is a book everyone can learn from. My biggest takeaways that sacrifice doesn’t need to be a negative thing, it can be a positive and that we all have a chance to create our own path.

Click here to the index of sports autobiographies.

What I Highlighted:

I’ve never written about myself before because there is not enough time in the world to spend it looking back.

The Dream

Do you know what they say about stories? That there are always three versions—yours, mine, and the truth.

Beneath my calm facade, there are sometimes storms, but I experience them alone and share what I’ve seen and learned later, in my own way.

I have always been a quick learner.

Friend, no one ever accomplishes your dreams for you, regardless of tears, fits, or any other means of manipulation. They can give you ideas and direction, but in the end, you have to do it alone.

You cannot truly understand a person unless you know where they have come from.

I have never been able to take no for an answer.

The Beginning

It was fairly easy to see who had flexibility and coordination, even in the youngest children.

Gymnastics meant freedom to do the things I couldn’t do at home.

They made each day fun, and I had no fear and never said “I cannot do that.”

It’s hard to describe, but I could actually taste how much I wanted to be a better gymnast.

I liked the feeling of improving; I craved accomplishments.

It’s hard work, but if you do what you love, it’s joyful.

I never saw the bigger picture or international success and fame.

Always desire.


I spent countless hours, days, weeks, and months perfecting the never before attempted skill.

Maybe that is what makes a champion more than any other thing: hating to fail and hating to not exceed your goals.

Success and failure weren’t tied to the Games but to my own personal accomplishments and mistakes.

The basics include strength, conditioning, and the perfection of the easiest of skills so that the more difficult ones are built upon a rock-solid foundation.

Trying to be someone else may get you through the door, but being unique will get you noticed!

But we concentrated and fell back on all the practice, training, and emotionally and physically demanding hard work we’d put in, and we exploded like fireworks.

Standing up there, watching my country’s flag rise, I felt pride, but even at a young age, my mind always replayed my performance and looked for holes, mistakes, opportunities to do better.

Winning is intensely personal in a way that might not make sense to you.

The power of a youngster is a thousand times stronger than that of an adult because there are no perceived boundaries for the child.

I was not lucky. No one can be that lucky in gymnastics. You have skills that you’re capable of doing, and you always know what you can and cannot deliver.

The only pressure comes from losing concentration and slipping, not from performing skills you know you can deliver.

I believe you can take the attributes you admire in others and incorporate them into your own life.

Necessity is what you do in life when there is only one path, choice, or desire.

The summer was incredibly hot, but we practiced day in, day out, regardless of the heat.

If I do my job and receive silver, then that’s what I deserved. If I want more than that, then I should be better.

My dream was to discover myself, to know what I could do, to push myself, and to be better than anybody else.

I have already told you that judges who do not recognize gymnasts tend to score them lower than the well-known girls.

By age fourteen, when I reached the 1976 Games, I had already chosen my path; I was doing exactly as I wished.

I had the choice to participate, and I grabbed the opportunity with both hands and held on as tightly as humanly possible.

No one knows when he or she is about to make history. There is no warning and no instruction manual on how to handle the moment.

I never analyzed my performance beyond a quick thought of the landing. It was done, and I needed to move on.

Promptly, I forgot about the 10 and moved on to the beam.

The Comaneci Salto and Comaneci Dismount that I performed during the 1976 Games came from countless hours of practice and thousands of falls.

I felt a sense of accomplishment, but there was practice, training, and more competitions ahead.

The Disciplined Life

I always wanted to do the hardest skills possible.

It was scary—all those years when nobody cared and now, suddenly, everyone was pushing, pulling, and trying to touch me.

There was no time to rest on my laurels.

Meals were not about enjoyment but about nutrients.

The secret of success was the three extra hours.

But he wasn’t going to waste his time on any gymnast who wasn’t as committed as he was to achieving in the sport.

We simply worked harder. We did work harder, even when we didn’t recognize it as work.

All of a sudden, there were other attractions, and because I was sixteen and knew that my career would end sooner, not later, my focus drifted.

I believe in the disciplined life—maybe too much so at times. It depends on what kind of life you want to have, though, and what you want to accomplish.

I can only give everyone the best of me if I am carefully organized and scheduled. That is the disciplined life.

Tough Teens

The desire to be a teen clashed with the desire to be an elite athlete.

I’d worked so hard to be a great gymnast, but suddenly, it didn’t feel like enough. My lack of desire to achieve and compete was so unlike me. I had always been focused on gymnastics and success. And I still believed in the value of sportsmanship, which included professionalism, respect for my teammates and coach, and holding myself to the highest standards.

I liked the freedom of having no schedule, but I didn’t truly enjoy the unorganized life.

I don’t give up, ever. I don’t run away from a challenge because I am afraid. Instead, I run toward it because the only way to escape fear is to trample it beneath your feet.

The Scorpion

I firmly believe that if you do anything solely because somebody else wants you to do it, then things won’t work out.

Being home with my family gave a balance to my life that I hadn’t had before.

I had made a commitment to him and to myself, and he would see that I met it.

I’d tried a “regular” life, and it wasn’t for me. I wasn’t happy being like everyone else.

Training, especially as an elite gymnast, is repetitive and at times boring, and it can be painful and frustrating.

The only things that are concrete come from each individual. The power to make it to the top and stay there comes from within alone. I like challenges, the harder the better. I love being told something is impossible because I want to do what no one has ever done before.

The negatives are fleeting. Nothing is big enough to damage me.

Listening to negative feedback does nothing for anyone.

I believe in being your own biggest supporter because that means you will always have someone in your corner.

Being a champion is about pushing yourself beyond the possible and believing in your abilities even when everyone around you says you aren’t capable.

Never have I thought about gymnastics as a sacrifice.

Do you love your life? If so, why are you seeking answers from others?

I’ve done something with my life and learned about strength, determination, and drive.

Hard work will always get you somewhere.

If you have a little talent and work very hard, then you have a shot at being a big winner.

Regardless, gymnastics gave me a sense of myself and made me stronger, both mentally and physically.

But no child, no matter where he is born, sacrifices time if he doesn’t like what he’s doing.

Personally, I don’t think that children have any pressure. Adults have pressure, but what does a kid know about it except what she puts on her own shoulders?

Too much involvement changes a child’s perceptions of what he is doing and why.

Let a child have the chance to find out what sport she loves and to see what she’s good at. If she doesn’t like it, fine, let her do something else. But keep her active because it’s good for her body and mind.

No matter how much a parent wants it, the child has to want it more.

We like the idea that we make the sport more accessible and help kids who couldn’t pay for an education to get one through their athletic talents.

I never blame a sport for things that happen in life.

All elite athletes deal with pain.

Gymnastics is a difficult sport, but life is tougher.

What matters is that you strive to be your best and then struggle to be even better.

We always helped each other like sisters, and if it was possible for me to perform without killing myself, I’d try.

I had no fear because I wasn’t sure what was going to happen, so consequently, I didn’t make any mistakes.

If an athlete doesn’t have some pain, it means she hasn’t worked hard enough.
I followed my instincts, as I always have, and they led me to safety.


It wasn’t until 1994, during an exhibition gymnastics show in Wyoming, that I was finally injured. Earlier that day, I’d learned that Monica Seles had been stabbed on a tennis court in Germany.

As a young adult, it’s hard to negotiate between people’s expectations of you versus your own expectations and the reality of your situation.

I believe that everyone reaps what he or she has sown.

If a gymnast can’t replace fear with concentration during a competition, then she will have more problems than a few knots in her stomach.

The only thing to do is try again and try harder. Overwhelm the negative.

You cannot do more in a competition than you can in training.

If you are not true to yourself, then your life becomes a lie.

The Struggle

People gossip; they are interested only in the bad things, the mistakes others make.

But I sometimes wonder, to this day, if courage is just another word for desperation.

The Scream

If I didn’t open my mouth, people couldn’t make up anything about me. So, I didn’t say a word.

Once more, life was about surviving, taking care of my brother, and keeping my home at least partially heated for the winter.

I always remind myself that a life worth living is one full of awareness, actions, and choices.

I realized that I could be like all of those people silently screaming around me or give myself permission to have a voice, to decide how my life should go.

Fairy Tales

It’s the what-ifs that wear you down and make you afraid to move.

Gymnastics had taught me to be a team player, and in this case, my team was made up of my fellow defectors.

Remember that no one is purely good or evil; we all have a little bit of the angel and devil in us.

Later, I learned that once you prove yourself and people like you, then you can essentially wear whatever you like in America.

I didn’t understand that I could find joy in my sport without being the best in the world.

You can’t begin a relationship unless it’s mutual.

We create our own fairy tales.

I have ten rules for living.
1. Master the basics
2. Focus on the details
3. Expect to struggle – it is not easy to succeed
4. Acknowledge your mistakes and learn from them
5. Define success in your own terms
6. Enjoy the process because preparation is everything
7. Do more than what is asked of you
8. Be original – make your own impact
9. Be willing to sacrifice – is makes success even sweeter
10. Maintain your love and passion for what you do.

I have fierce pride, and sometimes it can get in the way.

I have always loved my country, and that’s why, to this day, I haven’t given up my citizenship.

Though I don’t believe in perfection, that day was as close as I think I’ll ever come to experiencing it.

I’ve discovered that doing for others is much more fulfilling than standing alone on a podium while crowds cheers your individual accomplishments.