A Step in the Right Direction
About the Guest
Kim never imagined that her love for gymnastics would someday land her a college scholarship to UCLA. Kim Anthony tells about how her love for gymnastics began and how she was eventually recruited by UCLA, later winning many gold medals.
Kim never imagined that her love for gymnastics would someday land her a college scholarship to UCLA.
A Step in the Right Direction
Corwin: When Kim got involved in gymnastics, it placed her in a white world.
Kim: I had one coach in particular who would tell me I would never hold a candle to another girl in my gym or someone I was competing against.
Corwin: When we grew up, most African Americans were told, “You have to be better than the white man to get an equal opportunity.”
Kim: After hearing that so many times, I started believing I didn’t have what it took. I had been in the Olympic trials. I had been to South Africa where I won the gold medal. Yet, I never thought I was any good because no one ever told me.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, June 29th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. Today Kim and Corwin Anthony share with us a remarkable story of perseverance and achievement against unfavorable odds.
Welcome to FamilyLife Today; thanks for joining us. This is not going to make my wife happy, but I have to do this. My wife and our guest today have something in common. You probably aren’t aware of this, but Mary Ann, when she was a freshman at the University of Arkansas—that is where she had her freshman year at the University of Arkansas before she transferred to the University of Tulsa—she was on the gymnastics team at the University of Arkansas.
Dennis: Really? I did not know that.
Bob: Yes. If she was here, she would say, “Bob, it is a big stretch to say I had something in common with our guest.”
Mary Ann was pretty good on the balance beam. I think that was about it; that was her big thing. She enjoyed doing it, but no great shakes. However, our guest was a six-time All American and was a national champion. Mary Ann was pretty good on the balance beam. That is about what they have in common.
Dennis: You are speaking, of course—and this was before she got married—of Kim Hamilton who is now Kim Anthony, along with her husband Corwin join us on FamilyLife Today. Kim, Corwin, welcome back.
Corwin: Thank you.
Kim: It is good to be here.
Bob: You don’t remember my wife from college do you? I don’t think you competed against her.
Dennis: UCLA—I doubt if UCLA competed against Arkansas...
Bob: In much of anything, right?
Dennis: Yes. Kim has written a book called Unfavorable Odds. It is subtitled The Story of UCLA’s First African American Female Gymnastics Champion. For a lot of folks listening to this broadcast, they are not going to truly appreciate that accomplishment, but what was it like to be a pioneer at UCLA?
Kim: I had always been a pioneer in the sport of gymnastics, being one of very few African Americans in the sport in the U.S. When I went to UCLA, there was a big “to do” because they had never had a black female gymnast before.
I experienced different feedback from various people. There were some people who were very excited about it. There were others who didn’t appreciate it; they looked at me as—especially the other African American students at UCLA—they used the term “white-washed” because I was on the gymnastics team and I was the only African American.
Dennis: So you got punished.
Kim: I got punished.
Dennis: By African Americans?
Kim: Yes. Yes.
Bob: We ought to say for you to be a scholarship athlete at UCLA—an African American gymnast—it is against all odds because how tall are you?
Bob: How tall is the average gymnast?
Kim: About 4’11” - 5’.
Bob: Yes. Five-seven is just—I mean you towered above everybody else on the floor.
Kim: Most definitely.
Bob: Not only that—how did you even get into gymnastics in the first place? It is not the kind of thing that young African American girls growing up in poverty-stricken Richmond, Virginia. It is not like you just say, “Okay, I’d like to be a gymnast.” Where did the thought even come into your mind?
Kim: You know what? It actually was that way for me. I said, “Oh, I think I want to be a gymnast.”
Dennis: So you really are a pioneer.
Kim: Yes. I am—I guess so. I was watching Nadia compete.
Kim: Nadia Comăneci compete in the Olympics.
Dennis: I was just thinking of her when you were talking about a tall Olympian. Yes.
Kim: She is tall for a gymnast; but when I stand next to her...
Bob: She’s a little shrimpy thing.
Kim: She’s shorter than I am. I watched Nadia. I was in my grandmother’s living room—sitting there by myself on the floor. I said, “I can do that.” I started flipping around in the living room. I did a front flip and landed on my back. The boom just shook the house. I got smart; I got some pillows off the sofa, and padded my landing.
I started getting a little too wild and knocking over lamps, tables, and things like that. So my grandmother said, “You have to take that outside. I am sorry.” So I went outside onto the brick sidewalks in front of the house and the concrete stairs. I started doing my gymnastics.
Bob: Now wait. If I had had the first flip where I landed on my backside and it was sore, that would have been the end of my gymnastics career. Why did you keep after it?
Kim: I just thought it was fun. The feeling of flying through the air just fascinated me. I was a jumper. I would climb and jump over things—jump over fences, climb walls. My first experience on anything that was similar to a balance beam was this 15’-20’ high wall that was in the back alley. I would just walk on the edge of that wall and think nothing of it.
Dennis: 15’ to 20’ in the air?
Kim: Yes. We would climb up the wall—it was a concrete cinderblock wall.
Dennis: There is a great story of you finally getting into a gym.
Dennis: You and your mom went...
Kim: Yes. We took the bus over to the other side of town—to south side where I attended the Richmond Olympiad for the very first time. I had on my shorts and my shirt. I remember walking into the gym thinking, “Oh, my goodness. I am in heaven!” There were mats everywhere! Balance beams, bars, and...
Dennis: Those mats—that had to mean a lot.
Kim: Yes. Of course, since I was fearless on the brick sidewalks, can you imagine me with some mats underneath me? I was doing just about everything. I got in trouble so many times. The coaches kept telling me, “Get off the high bar! No, you are not supposed to be up there.”
At the end of the class, the coaches called me over. I thought, “Oh, I am in such big trouble. They are never going to let me come back again. They kept having to get me off the high beam and all this other stuff.”
They asked me where I had taken gymnastics lessons before. I told them, “This is my first class. I just do gymnastics on my sidewalk.” They said, “Show me what you have taught yourself how to do.” I showed them my side aerials with no hands and things like that.
They looked at me, and they looked at each other. They immediately asked me to join the team. They said, “How would you like to compete and be on our team?” I looked at my mom; and I said, “Okay.” My mama said, “Okay. That is fine,” because I knew that I would be able to come and train for three days a week. I said, “Ooh, I’d like to do that.”
They took me to their Pro Shop because I didn’t have a leotard. We couldn’t afford to buy a leotard from the Pro Shop, but they let me take it home anyway. They told us to just pay them back whenever we got the money.
Dennis: I’m looking at your wife’s face. She is just beaming! I am looking at yours, Corwin; and you are too. When did you finally realize you had married such a pioneer? I mean, you have your hands full; don’t you?
Corwin: Oh, yes, definitely. If she could she’d be doing some flips in the studio right now.
Bob: Really? You still like to jump around?
Kim: I do.
Corwin: She loves to do it.
Kim: If I see an open field or just a big open area, I just want to do it. I just...
Bob: I did a cartwheel last year.
Kim: Did you?
Bob: Yes, I did. Do you remember seeing that cartwheel?
Dennis: I did, Bob.
Bob: It was kind of a round-off—I mean, by the end, it wasn’t a full cartwheel.
Dennis: Kim, Kim...
It wasn’t! Trust me, Kim. It was ugly! You would not associate it with gymnastics. I promise you.
Bob: You were obviously a natural at this. This was just how you were built, how you were made, what you loved to do. Those early years of going to the practices and then competing on the team—at one level, it was a part of the escape from the reality of what was going on at home that kept some sanity in your life. Don’t you think?
Kim: Yes. It did. Gymnastics was the only thing that I had control over—my body and what it did in the air, what it did on the balance beam or the bars. It gave me some sense of control in my life because I couldn’t control my home situation at all; but when I went to the gym, I could learn how to control my body.
Bob: The fact that you were getting taller than most gymnasts get—and the fact that you were getting older—we watched the Olympics; and these are 14-, 15-year-old girls. You were 16, 17, 18. Were the people saying, “This isn’t going to work for you,”?
Kim: No one told me that—not because of my height. I heard my coaches who at one point told me that I didn’t have what it took to become a champion. I had one coach in particular who was only doing it because she thought it would make me perform better. She would tell me that I didn’t have what it took and that I would never hold a candle to another girl in my gym or someone I was competing against.
After hearing that for so many times, and especially the way it was done and how embarrassed I was by it, I started believing that I didn’t have what it took. I never realized that I was a good gymnast until I went to UCLA. My coaches told me that I was good. I looked at them as though they were crazy.
I had been in the Olympic trials. I had been to South Africa where I won the gold medal there, been in London where I won a gold—all over the world. Yet, I never thought I was any good because no one ever told me.
Dennis: When did you start believing in yourself? Was it a victory or was it a coach? Was that it?
Kim: It was definitely a coach telling me. During my freshman year at UCLA my coach told me that she thought I could become a national champion in college. I did not because I didn’t think I was good enough. She continued to tell me, “Kimmie, you are good! You just have to believe it.”
Then I started training like I was good. I thought, “Man, if I had this when I was younger, when I was at the Olympic trials and things like that—my goodness, what could I have done?”
Dennis: What a great illustration of two different kinds of coaches. One telling you are bad, over and over and over again—and you beginning to believe that; and another telling you, “You are really good,” and finally that ultimately is absorbed by you.
I am going to ask you a question that Bob is not going to like me for asking you.
Dennis: This is kind of a fun question. If you could just keep one memory of one victory of all the victories you have won—I’ve got a feeling you’ve got trophies and medals...
Corwin: Piled up.
Dennis: Piled up! I mean, I have a couple.
Kim: Corwin made me throw them out.
Bob: I mean the house is only so big. Kim, come on.
Kim: I know.
Dennis: Which one would be the most meaningful moment of all your competition?
Kim: The most meaningful moment—I don’t even have to think about it—it was definitely winning the South African Cup during Apartheid in South Africa. What I experienced there was incredible—to see the shanty towns, to see the treatment of the black South Africans. I had people in the mall—black South Africans—coming up to me asking me if I could help them escape to America. I was 16 years old.
We went to a safari—a resort—we tried to get the lowdown from the black South Africans. We met with a guy on a rooftop who met with us secretively. He didn’t tell us his name because he didn’t want his family or his own life to be threatened. He told us what was going on. He told us that there was going to be a rebellion and that they were training warriors to fight back.
For a little African American girl who wasn’t really thinking much about life, it was life-changing to realize the privilege that I had. Even though I had to clean the gym at night with my parents to pay for lessons, I could also train in that gym. The black South Africans were cleaning the gyms, but they were not allowed to use them.
I looked at it as a privilege. I thought, “I have it a lot better than I have been thinking.” Winning that South African Cup was an opportunity for me to represent people of African descent all over the world.
Bob: Dennis has talked about you as a pioneer in the era in which all of this was happening for you with Apartheid going on in South Africa, with racial tension in the United States, and you being a rare African American gymnast. How did you wrestle with your own understanding of race and your own understanding of who you were and the tension that existed?
I am thinking back to your dad who in the military had faced racial discrimination and had gotten in with the Black Panthers—he was hostile and angry. Did you ever start to build up a bitterness in your heart toward the racism you were experiencing?
Kim: Growing up—because of what my father had experienced—I was always taught that even if you have a dream, the white man will not allow you to achieve it. I learned that from talking to my father from the place where he was in the military. He had dreams. He was a pioneer in his own right. They would not allow him to do certain things. That is what I heard growing up.
As a gymnast, I remember thinking, “I can never be as good as the white girls any way. I’ll just do the best I can.” I remember seeing another little black gymnast at the Class 3 state meet my very first year as a gymnast. She did a beautiful arched dive roll. It gave me permission to be the best instead of comparing myself to other people.
When I experienced what I saw in South Africa, I understood what my father had gone through. I understood what my mother had gone through concerning racism, and I understood better my grandmother. She cleaned the homes of rich white families. That was all she knew because that was all that was allowed her.
I believe that as a result of the racial tension I was experiencing, I wanted to do more than what I had watched people in my neighborhood do. I wanted to rise above that and say, “You know what, maybe someone won’t allow me do something; but I want to work hard so I can make something of myself.”
Bob: It didn’t cultivate an anger in your heart. At least, that is not what I am hearing. Some people who would experience this would just go, “This just makes me angry.” You seem to have dealt—I’m looking over at your husband—he is nodding his head.
Corwin: I know that when Kim got involved with gymnastics, it placed her in a white world. She developed some pretty close friendships as a little girl. That kind of helped to contribute to her being more accepting and loving in dealing with the racial tensions in the black community.
They were more accepting of her than even her own family. When she would go home, she would hear, “What you doing? That’s a white girl’s sport. You can’t be nothin’ and you are not.” But then she would go to the gym and she would have all these little girls loving her, encouraging her, and helping her.
Dennis: And who respected her.
Corwin: They respected her; yes.
Bob: I want to ask both of you two—because Corwin—you work with pro athletes in an environment today where black athletes and white athletes are playing side by side. You’re involved with the wives of the Miami Dolphins. I know the sporting world is maybe not a microcosm of the world at large; but I’m just wondering at the beginning of the 21st Century, are we over the hurdle on the racism issue?
Corwin: We have many hurdles to cross. I think we have taken some good strides and have crossed a number of them, but there are more hurdles that need to be crossed.
Dennis: I want to go back to the world of gymnastics just for a moment, Kim. I want to ask you the flip side of the question that I asked “What was your favorite moment?” What was your greatest disappointment in competition? In other words, if you could go back in reverse—one competition—I’ve got a hunch of which one it will be but I don’t know you. Do you think you know, Corwin?
Corwin: I would guess one, yes.
Dennis: Okay. You hold that one, but let’s let Kim answer it first.
Kim: If I could go back and change one competition, that would be 1989 Nationals UCLA—NCAA. It was at the University of Georgia. Our team was leading the competition. I was up last on the floor exercise. In order for UCLA to win the entire competition, I needed to score a perfect 10.
I did an incredible routine, but I made one mistake which was on my triple turn. As I was doing my triple turn, I found myself leaning slightly to the side and I did everything I could to try to pull myself upward so that I could finish perfectly; but I had a tiny hop to the side.
Gymnastics is judged by individuals. Some individuals may overlook that hop and some individuals may say, “Hmm—that was a hop.” When the scores went up at the end of the routine, two of the judges gave me perfect 10’s. The other judges did not.
I was unable to lead our team to win the National Championship title. Even as I wrote about that in the book, it was very difficult. When I had to listen to myself talk about it on the audio version of the book, over and over again, I just get a pit in my stomach every single time. That is the one meet I would change.
Corwin: She is a competitor, ya’ll.
Bob: I would guess so!
Dennis: Was that the...
Corwin: That was the one. Yes.
Dennis: I mean, a 10—that’s unheard of.
Kim: It was in that day. They weren’t giving out 10’s when I was competing.
Dennis: I want to say this about you, Kim. You score a 10 in your pioneering, persevering spirit to have overcome—speaking of hurdles. A huge number of hurdles in your life to become the woman, the wife, the author of a book, and a spokesperson on behalf of issues like racism, competition, and purpose in life and to use the platform God gave you for His glory.
Kim: Thank you.
Bob: Let me just add—You have done a great job telling your story in your book which is called Unfavorable Odds. I think Dennis is right; you overcame a lot of unfavorable odds to achieve all that you have achieved, not only as an athlete but also as a woman.
We have copies of the book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Let me encourage our listeners to go online to get a copy at FamilyLifeToday.com. Again, the title of the book is Unfavorable Odds by Kim Hamilton Anthony. You can go to FamilyLifeToday.com to request a copy or call 1-800-FLTODAY (1-800-358-6329). That is 1-800 F as in “Family” L as in “Life” and then the word TODAY.
It is always an encouragement for either of us, Dennis or me, when we get a chance to connect with listeners face to face, whether we are speaking somewhere or at an event—just to hear from listeners who tune in and appreciate the ministry of FamilyLife Today. It is always great to get to connect with folks.
I know some of you who are listening are new to the program. Maybe you have never been to our website FamilyLifeToday.com, you are not getting our e-magazine which is called The Family Room, or you just don’t know a whole lot about the ministry of FamilyLife Today. We would love to introduce ourselves.
Although we cannot do that face to face, we have a gift we would like to send you just as a way to say, “Hi,” and to invite you to find out more about the ministry of FamilyLife Today. The gift is a book called Ninety-nine Ways to Stretch Your Home Budget. It is a very practical guide to suggest ways that you might be able to tighten things up a little bit and have a little extra money as a family. The book is our free gift to you.
Again, it is our hope that we can get to know you a little better and introduce the ministry of FamilyLife Today to you. Give us a call at 1-800-FLTODAY if you are interested in a copy of the book and if you would like to find out more about FamilyLife Today.
Again, the phone number is 1-800-358-6329. That is 1-800- F as in “Family” L as in “Life” and then the word TODAY. Just ask for the book on stretching your budget. Again, we are happy to send it out to you and glad to have you listening to FamilyLife Today. We hope to get you better connected with all that God is doing through this ministry.
We hope to see you back tomorrow when Kim and Corwin Anthony are going to join us again. We are going to talk tomorrow about how the two of you met and about how your relationship began. I hope our listeners can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today Keith Lynch and our entire broadcast production team on behalf of our host Dennis Rainey; I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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