Olympic Star Kerri Strug Vaults to New Heights

 @http://twitter.com/jtalty on June 13 2012 4:39 PM

At the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, the United States women's gymnastics team was battling Russia with the gold medal on the line.

Eighteen-year-old Kerri Strug headed into her final vault as the U.S. held a narrow lead over Russia.

There was a problem.

Strug landed badly on her previous vault and severely injured her ankle.

Despite two torn ligaments and severe pain, Strug sprinted down the 75-foot runway. She completed her second vault with a solid landing on one leg with her arms in the air before collapsing in pain onto her hands and knees.

She scored a 9.712 and guaranteed the U.S. its first ever team gold medal.

Strug became an American hero. The Tucson, Ariz. native landed the cover of numerous magazines, made multiple television appearances, met with President Bill Clinton, and became a household name.

Strug's courageous performance remains one of the most memorable moments in sports history and her vault helped immortalize the 1996 squad, known as the Magnificent Seven.

Since the 1996 Games, the two-time Olympian and gold medalist has seen success in fields outside of gymnastics.

Strug graduated from Stanford University with a master's in sociology, worked at the Treasury Department, and since 2005, has served in the Justice Department's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

Now 34, Strug is married to Robert Fischer and on March 1, the couple welcomed a baby boy, Tyler William Fischer.

Besides the vault in Atlanta and winning gold, the highlight of my life is having this little boy, Tyler, she explains.

When asked if she would like to see her son get involved with sports, the self-proclaimed type-A personality admits she is biased in favor of athletics, but says it is important to be involved in something whether it be school, music, theatre, or athletics.

It has to be his passion, his dream, she adds.

Through sports Strug says, You learn so much about life including time management skills, perseverance, and hard work. She claims these skills are critical to being a successful person.

This emphasis on involvement in extracurricular activities and previous exposure to charity work is what spurred Strug to take on a job at the Justice Department, where she works to make a difference in the lives of at-risk youth around the country.

Strug works with various programs to get our youth on the right track - prevention and intervention programs.

In addition to her career at the Justice Department and becoming a mother, Strug remains heavily involved with gymnastics and Team USA. Along with promoting the Visa U.S. National Gymnastics Championships, Strug is a spokesperson for the Hilton HHonors Support the Dream program.

As hundreds of athletes from the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Teams compete in the London Games, Hilton HHonors is encouraging fans to submit good luck messages to Team USA with the launch of the Support the Dream program.

I think it's important to align yourself with companies that you have similar values with...it was a no brainer and I am honored to be part of their team now.

Fans can send their well wishes at HHonors.com/SupportTheDream until Aug. 12. For every good luck message posted, Hilton will donate $1 worth of amenities to help improve U.S. Olympic facilities, by providing beds, pillows, linens and towels along with other amenities.

This is really a win-win; everybody can show their support and cheer on their favorite athlete...and Hilton is going to help with training facilities for future Olympians.

Hilton HHonors members who submit their good luck messages by July 1 can win one of two trips for two to attend the London Games and support Team USA. A variety of other prizes, including a day at a U.S. Olympic Training Center and meet-and-greet events with Olympic medalists will be awarded with every Team USA medal in London.

As for the athletes Strug is looking out for in London, Strug explained to the International Business Times that the beauty of the Olympics is that you never know what is going to happen.

There are athletes that you assume are going to rise to the top of the medals platform but sometimes, there is a surprise, she explains.

Sometimes athletes come out of nowhere and steal the spotlight.

It is often the unexpected moments that capture the hearts of spectators and inspire us for years.

Strug knows first-hand about that.

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