About five years ago, Taylor Spears thought she wanted to go to a college far away from her mother.
“We were just around each other so much,” Spears said. “But I’m glad it worked out this way.”
Spears was a first-team All-American as a senior this year on Oklahoma’s gymnastics team, which shared the national championship with Florida last month.
Spears was overcome with emotion last week when asked to describe what it meant to share the championship with her mom. She had no siblings, and her father died when she was a fifth-grader.
At a time when mothers are celebrated worldwide, Taylor Spears describes her life in gymnastics, the national championship and her mom, who Spears calls her best friend.
I was 3 years old, and my mom was just trying to put me in a sport so I could have stuff to do. I tried tennis and I swam a lot.
Then I tried gymnastics, and it was just so easy for me because I was so little.
I started competing at a young age, when I was about 8, and it just went from there.
We lived in Houston when my dad passed, so we moved up to Plano, where the Olympic Gymnastics Academy was. My mom decided to move us up north because it was just us, and she wanted to be closer to her family. It just worked out.
I was 14 and I quit gymnastics for a week. My mom said, “OK, well, you’re gonna have to go to a regular junior high and find something else to do.” I just couldn't picture my life without it.
I’m really glad that I stuck with it.
I didn’t even want to come take a visit to OU, but it was so close that we could drive, and my mom couldn't afford to fly me out to Florida, and fly me out to Georgia every other weekend.
We came here first, and I had a trip planned the next weekend to LSU but I didn't even go to it. I just came here and decided I wanted to come here.
I traveled to Russia for about a week when I was 13 or 14. Another year went by and I was still elite, which is almost Olympic level. Then I guess a year went by, and I just grew up more.
It’s a lot easier for men (to go to the Olympics at an older age) because they don’t really go through the same changes we do, and they just get stronger and bigger.
I just decided that really wasn't what I wanted to do. I wanted to have fun and get a scholarship, get my school paid for. But people choose to go that way, and it’s just really hard to do.
When you’re a girl, you pretty much know at the age of 15 or 16, if you’re gonna be able to do it or not. The girls on the Olympic team are 16 or 17 years old. It’s just a totally different life.
I definitely don’t regret that decision. I mean, it’s amazing what they do, but to get there is very, very hard.
All year, we didn't ever have a meet where we all showed up. There were always a couple people who weren't there, and it was cool to see because we hit it (at nationals) when we needed to. It was perfect.
We ended on vault, Alabama was ending on beam and Florida was ending on floor. Vault is the fastest event, so we were done before everyone, so we just sat there and watched.
We were watching Bama, and their first girl fell on beam, and their last girl fell on beam, so as soon as that happened, we realized we really had a shot. We stopped worrying about them, but Florida was still on the floor.
Hayden Ward is really good at math, and she was adding it up. She said, “This last girl needs a 9.95 to tie us.” I was like, “To tie us? There’s never been a tie, ever. That’s just impossible.”
Sure enough, she went 9.95. We had no idea what was gonna happen. Was there a tiebreaker? We didn't know what it meant. We were all crying, because we were just so anxious.
One of the Florida coaches came running over and said, “You did it.” So all of us thought we had won by ourselves. It was very confusing for about 10 minutes.
We go up on the podium, and Florida is holding the little first-place trophies, and they’re handing us the second-place ones. Then Florida called us over to be behind the championship banner, and I thought, “What is going on?” Then they announced that we’d tied as co-champions.
They’d just run out of individual first-place trophies.
I didn't even know how to react, because we won, but at the same time … I don’t know.
We won. It was just weird.
My mom came to every meet my senior year, even the ones we traveled to.
All the money she spent for me … I’m glad it was all worth it for her, too.
The first year was tough for me, just adjusting. I struggled in school, struggled in gymnastics, so we didn't talk a whole lot because it just made me upset because I missed her.
Sophomore, junior, senior year, we talked all the time, and now we talk every day.
We’re best friends. I couldn't ask for a better friend than my mom.