MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The Summer Olympics are still two years away, and many people haven’t even thought about them yet. But one local gymnast in the Twin Cities has had Tokyo 2020 on her mind for years.
Grace McCallum isn’t your normal 16-year-old. She’s a 16-year-old on a mission. She started gymnastics when she was 4 years old.
“Ever since I started, I knew I wanted to go to the Olympics,” Grace said. “That was my dream. That’s every little kid’s dream though.”
It’s a dream so common, but so hard to actually accomplish. Only five women every four years get to be on the U.S. Olympic Team.
But Grace is decently close to making that dream a reality. Currently, she is on the USA Gymnastics National Team, which is made up of the best 10 gymnasts in the country. She trains with them once a month, and travels to national and international competitions.
‘I Just Try Not To Think About It & Work Hard In The Gym’
At the end of October, Grace was one of five women to represent the U.S. at the 2018 World Competition in Qatar. In the gymnastics world, that’s huge.
Worlds are like the Olympics, just every year as opposed to every four years. At Worlds, Grace performed her floor routine and her vault, and helped Team USA win the gold medal.
Her teammates on the National Team, and at Worlds, are some of the best gymnasts in the world. The most notable name is Simone Biles. Grace says that training with them is surreal.
“When I was growing up, just watching them, I thought, ‘Wow! They are so cool! They are so good!’ I never thought that I would be up there with them someday,” she said.
But now she is. And she’s more than holding her own.
The floor routine she performed at Worlds is the seventh best floor routine in the world. She said going to Worlds and competing was a dream come true.
“It was amazing,” she said. “Just being with all these amazing athletes, it just pushes you so hard. It’s so inspiring to be with them all and competing with them.”
Competing in a huge meet like that on the international stage was an enormous amount of pressure for a single teenager. But Grace says she blocks it all out.
“I just try to think of it like a practice, or like any other meet,” she said. “And just have fun out on the floor. Just give it all I got.”
For her mom, however, it’s a different story.
“My joke to her is: I love, love, love watching videos of you afterwards, when I know that you are safe and everything is fine,” Sandy McCallum said.
“Gymnastics is probably the most stressful sport as a parent to watch. To have your child out there alone, knowing that they’ve done these routines hundreds of times perfectly. You hope that they can be successful in that one moment, knowing that anything can happen, at any given time.”
Grace has been successful in a lot of those moments. She is one of the best gymnasts in the country, but if you didn’t know her from the gym, you would never know that.
“If you met Grace on the street, other than her athletic build, I don’t think you would ever know she’s a gymnast,” her mom said. “She doesn’t talk about it, ever, to anybody outside of the gym. If they were to ask her about it, she would say yah…I love gymnastics. It’s a lot of fun. She’s a very humble kid. And we want to keep her that way.”
In Grace’s entire career, Sandy has only ever missed two meets.
“I want her to know that her family is behind her one hundred percent,” she said. “And even if all of us can’t be there, somebody will always be there supporting her.”
Having the entire McCallum family at one gymnastics event would be a feat among itself. Grace is one of six kids. Her oldest sister, Rachael, is 17, and her youngest brother, Xavier, is five.
“It’s crazy! The house is always crazy, but it’s fun,” Grace said. “It’s always nice to have someone to talk to or play with to keep you busy.”
And in a family of six, you really feel the love of everyone.
“They are my number one supporters,” Grace said. “They cheer for me so much. They all were at home and watching me on TV. They just support me so much.”
The support in the McCallum family comes from the top down. Sandy and her husband, Ed, set an example of how to make it all work.
Driving six kids around to all their activities is a lot, especially when Grace’s gym is 45 minutes away. Some days she has practice twice a day!
“It’s a lot of shuffling,” Sandy said. “We always have to have a strategic plan in place for who is taking this kid there, who is taking this kid there, and we always make sure that one of us is there for all of their activities. If not both of us. You just prioritize.”
But she also said the sacrifices they make are completely worth it, because Grace as always been committed to gymnastics.
“There was never a moment of her not wanting to be in the gym, or not wanting to do gymnastics,” Sandy said. “The hard work, and the injuries, and everything, nothing has ever held her back from wanting to go. I think when you see a passion in your child like that, the sacrifices are worth it. You just make it work.”
And Grace’s sisters are thrilled to see their sister do so well, too.
“Seeing her compete against Simone Biles just makes me really excited that she’s getting that good,” said little sister Madelyn.
Her older sister, Rachael, says she gets a little nervous watching live, but loves it.
“It’s so cool. Every time I see her I’m like that’s my sister…competing for Team USA!” she said.
And now, Grace is back in Minnesota, taking it one day at a time. She says she doesn’t focus on 2020, Tokyo or the Olympics. She just works hard, day after day, hoping to get better each day.
But still, the goal is in the back of her mind.
“It’s definitely motivating to know that I actually might have a chance,” she said. “It just makes me work that much harder in the gym every day.”