Ex-gymnast Retton in good position to support daughters

By Emily Wright
Globe Correspondent / May 8, 2011

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WORCESTER — As chalk dust floated through the air and coaches could be heard offering advice over the toe-tapping music pumping through the DCU Center Friday night, eager onlookers chatted about the presence of Olympic great Mary Lou Retton at USA Gymnastics’s Level 9 Eastern Championships.

Retton wasn’t here with USA Gymnastics, coaching, or speaking on behalf of any organization. The 43-year-old mother of four was on hand to support her 14-year-old daughter, McKenna Kelley, as she took on some of the country’s best 13- and 14-year-olds in the Junior 5 Division.

“Sitting in the stands is so much harder than actually being out there on the floor,’’ said Retton. “My daughter had started out strong and had two weaker events and she’s sitting over there crying. It just breaks your heart as a parent.’’

The tables have turned for Retton, who in 1984 became the first American female to win an Olympic gold medal in the all-around in gymnastics. Retton sacrificed her Mother’s Day weekend to travel from Fairmont, W.Va., to Worcester and watched as McKenna took home a first in the floor (9.600) and tied for third in the vault (9.500).

McKenna, Retton’s second-oldest daughter, was competing with a broken growth plate in her right ankle, which she suffered three weeks ago at the Level 9, Division 5, Regional 7 championship in Landover, Md. She placed first in the all-around competition at the regional.

Her injury hindered her performance Friday (she placed 18th overall), leaving both her and her mother in tears. “Her just being here . . . I’m proud of her,’’ Retton said.

Although the 4-foot-8-inch Retton looks like she could step out onto the floor and compete, she walks with a slight limp because of hip replacement surgery for dysplasia.

Retton is comfortable taking a step back from the spotlight to allow her daughters to shine, with support from her husband of 20 years, Shannon Kelley.

“I’ve kind of taken a step back and want to be a full-time parent,’’ Retton said.

Lois Retton, Mary Lou’s mother, was a role model for the woman she has become.

“My mother pretty much was doing what I do now — drove me to the gym, dropped me off, let the coaches [coach], and then she picked me up,’’ Retton said. “She really stayed out of it. She never pushed me, she never coached me.’’

Sixteen-year-old Shayla Kelley and 8-year-old Emma Kelley are also competitive gymnasts. Shayla competes at Level 9, Emma at Level 7. Mary Lou’s fourth daughter, Skyla, 11, is a competitive cheerleader.

Retton hopes people don’t expect too much from them because of their mother.

“I’m very sensitive to that,’’ she said.