Sports fans go nuts listing and comparing and debating those seemingly unbreakable streaks:
The New York Yankees’ Joe DiMaggio got a hit in 56 consecutive games — a Major League Baseball record that stands almost eight decades later.
Hockey’s The Great One, Wayne Gretzky, scored points in 51 straight games and prizefighter Sugar Ray Robinson won 91 consecutive bouts over an eight-year period.
But you can aptly add MyKayla Skinner’s “161” to that list of iconic streaks.
That’s how many times the Latter-day Saint athlete performed individual events in college competition (including the balance beam, uneven bars and the vault) without taking a fall.
It’s a streak that may outlast DiMaggio’s.
So what happened just seconds into Skinner’s opening routine on the balance beam on the concluding day (Aug. 11) of the 2019 U.S. Gymnastics National Championships?
She stumbled and fell.
Skinner’s father, Cris Skinner, had just clicked on the television in the family’s Gilbert, Arizona, home to watch the competition when the unimaginable happened.
“I was thinking, ‘Oh my goodness, it’s going to deteriorate from here.’ But then MyKayla pulled it back together and stuck her dismount from the balance beam — and then she did good at everything else.”
Good enough to snag a spot on the 2019 U.S. National Team — a key step towards competing at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
“This almost doesn’t seem real,” MyKayla Skinner told the Church News a couple of days after the competition.
She admits “the pressure was on” after her fall from the beam.
“But I felt like the most important thing was to block everything out and to just go out and have fun. … I wanted to just get out there and do the things that I train to do every day.”
The lifelong Latter-day Saint is no stranger to America’s top gymnastics squad. She made the senior national team four times — and was an alternate on the 2016 Olympic gold medal team in Rio, Brazil — before beginning her collegiate career with the University of Utah’s storied gymnastics program.
Skinner’s outstanding three-year run as a Ute included multiple national championships (vault and floor) and 26 All-America awards, a school record. But last month she opted to step away from her senior season at Utah and return to international competition.
Her desire to compete at the Olympics was strong — but leaving Utah was still a tough choice.
“My patriarchal blessing said that I needed to get a college degree,” said the two-time Pac-12 All-Academic selection and communications major.
She’s grateful for personal prayer and the support of her family and friends in helping her find peace and confirmation.
“I received the answer that I should try (to make the Olympic team) and have no regrets,” she said. “I can go back to school and finish my degree. But with the Olympics, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
Skinner’s sojourn to a spot on her fifth U.S. national team hasn’t been easy. She has encountered roadblocks and discouragement. The competition’s always relentless. She’s had vocal distractors and admits to sometimes having a “love-hate relationship” with the sport.
Growing up, her intense training schedule often meant missing Church activities and family events. She would have likely served a full-time mission had she not been so involved in gymnastics.
But she’s chosen to endure and persist. And she’s grateful that she’s stayed healthy despite the grueling physical demands exacted by her sport.
Strength, she added, is always found in prayer.
“Having God close by has really helped me to keep going and get answers,” she said. “The challenges in life can get so hard at times. But I feel like you can’t give up until the very end. You have to keep pushing for those goals and dreams.”
A gospel-centered perspective will also help keep the young Relief Society sister grounded as she continues with the grueling competition schedule that she hopes ends next summer in Tokyo.
“You have to keep pushing for those goals and dreams.”
She knows her life was never meant to be defined by gymnastics. And she plans to one day marry and “have a real big girl’s job.”
“But this is the time for me to go out and live my dreams and try to be a great example and continue doing what I love. And hopefully, I reach my main goal to make that Olympic team, which would be really, really cool.”
As the father of an elite Latter-day Saint athlete, Cris Skinner most appreciates watching his high-energy little girl develop into a big-hearted young woman. She’s often called upon to speak at Young Women’s and Young Single Adult activities, encouraging audiences to stay loyal to their dreams and beliefs.
“And everywhere she goes she stops and takes time (with fans). The young girls just love her,” he said.
Regardless of how things turn out over the next several months, she is proud to represent her faith. She’s once again the only Latter-day Saint on the national squad. Over the years, she’s answered all of the expected questions: Why don’t you drink coffee? Why don’t you drink alcohol?
One teammate’s parent once even asked if she had several moms.
But with time, her national teammates and competitors have come to understand and respect her values and beliefs.
“I don’t feel any peer pressure — they let me do my thing. They ask questions here and there, so it’s fun being able to tell them things. It’s kind of a way for me to be a missionary.”
For now, Skinner’s back to the full-time demands of an elite international gymnast. The national team will begin training together in a few weeks in preparation for October’s World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany.