MyKayla Skinner was a gymnast before she ever set foot in the gym. The youngest of four, her older siblings did gymnastics and would teach her tricks at home for fun. So by the time she got her start at the ripe age of five (which she says is on the later side for elite gymnasts), she already knew a thing or two about the sport. “Ever since I came out of the womb, my sisters were playing with me, teaching me gymnastics,” she tells Bustle. “We had a tune-up bar in the coat closet and they used to make me do chin-ups, so I was able to hop into [gymnastics] really fast.”
If you’ve been watching the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games, you might’ve caught the moment Skinner’s career came to an end. During the qualifying rounds, the 24-year-old Arizona native fell short of making the final cut to compete for the U.S. But that’s not to say her accolades are any less impressive: Skinner has been a member of the U.S. Senior National Team seven times since 2013, won a gold medal in the 2014 World Championships team competition, competed for the University of Utah, and was an alternate at the 2016 Olympics in Rio. In June 2021, just seven months after recovering from a COVID-related hospitalization for pneumonia, she was named an individual competitor on the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team.
“I’ve wanted to go to the Olympics since I was little,” she tells Bustle. “I’m done with my elite career after this. It’s sad, but I’m just super excited that we’re having an Olympics after the postponement from COVID, and knowing I’ve achieved something that I dreamed of for so long is a huge accomplishment.” Next, Skinner plans to finish her studies at the University of Utah.
Here, Skinner spoke with Bustle about her self-care practices, workout routine, and what she’s looking forward to after her retirement.
You were training five days a week — what are your recovery days like?
When I have time to relax, I love to watch Netflix or go see a movie or just chill with family and friends at the pool. [Gymnastics] is on my mind all the time, so any time that I can totally get my mind off of it is really nice.
How have you been approaching your fitness routine?
I try to take it one day at a time. But the bad days make me stronger. I try to go into each workout with a positive mindset.
How do you keep a positive attitude when things get tough?
It’s hard being a high-level athlete because there are so many times you get really down on yourself. For me, if I’m not perfect, after a meet I’ll text my husband and say, “I’m going to quit. I’m done. I suck.” But then I’m like, wait a second — if I suck I wouldn’t be here. Now I have a mental trainer that I talk to in order to change that mindset.
What is your dream post-Olympics meal?
I love In-N-Out, but I’ll probably have a big greasy, crusty pizza!
What else are you looking forward to now?
I feel like gymnastics really makes you good at any sport. It will be fun to try different things and see what else that I’m good at. In Arizona, pickleball has become a trend, so I’m excited to be done with gymnastics and really get into it. I would also love to explore and go hiking.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
To learn more about the Team USA athletes, visit TeamUSA.org.