Imagine going into your freshman year of college already being the world all-around champion and an Olympic gold medalist.
That was the reality for Jordyn Wieber, the 19-year-old gymnast who the Phoenix Mercury honored Saturday as a Woman of Inspiration, two years after she was part of the Fierce Five U.S. team that captured the gold in London and three years after she stood atop the podium in the all-around at the World Championships in Tokyo.
“It’s really an honor, to be able to come here at this basketball game in front of so many amazing female athletes, is pretty cool,” Wieber said. “I feel that after the Olympics, my job is to inspire people and especially young gymnasts, and to be able to do that and travel to inspire people really is an honor.”
Wieber, who is from DeWitt, Mich., will be entering her sophomore year at UCLA, where she is the team manager for a Bruins team finished eighth in the NCAA in 2014 and includes 2008 Olympian Samantha Peszek.
“It is a little weird,” Wieber said of not competing, “but just because I made the choice to give up my NCAA eligibility, I’m still able to work with a college team, even though I can’t compete. It’s a different world, the elite world from the college world, the gymnastics is different. I feel very lucky to be able to do some of the experiences I’ve done.”
In her current role, Wieber works with Valorie Kondos Field, who has won six national titles in her quarter century in Westwood.
“You can just tell they’ve had so many years of success,” Wieber said. “They definitely have built quite the program there. Miss Val isn’t just an amazing coach, she’s an amazing person, I can talk to her about anything. She recruited me to be a gymnast there, and I fell in love with the school, I love California, it’s always been my dream to go to UCLA, so now I’m very lucky to go there even though I can’t compete.”
The U.S. Gymnastics Championships will take place Aug. 21-24 in Pittsburgh, an event in which Wieber won the all-around in both 2011 and 2012, and the World Championships will be in from Oct. 3-13, in Nanning, China. Saturday, reigning U.S. and world all-around champion Simone Biles won the Secret U.S. Classic in Chicago and is the favorite going into Nationals.
“I think gymnastics gets better and better every year," Wieber said. "The difficulty of competing gets higher and higher. I was just sitting in my dressing room watching the competition in Chicago, and it’s just amazing what these girls are doing. I think gymnastics keeps evolving and getting harder and harder every year, but it’s really growing as a sport.”
Will we see Wieber back in action in time for the 2016 Rio Olympics?
“I haven’t decided,” she said. “I started training after the Olympics trying to get back in shape, then I made the decision to go to college, so I put it on hold for a while.”
What about the rest of the Fierce Five, including Kyla Ross who won five medals at the U.S. Classic and finished second to Biles in the all-around Saturday?
“I’m not sure,” Wieber said. “I’m training in different states, I keep in touch with them every once in a while, but we kind of all do our own different training, but I think a few of them are going to compete soon.”
Wieber’s major at UCLA is psychology, which she hopes to pursue once her gymnastics career is finished.
“I’ve definitely always been interested in psychology, and gymnastics is a huge part of that,” she said. “It’s such a mental sport, and I love learning, I’m not exactly sure what career I want to do with that yet, but probably something in sports because it's my passion. I love working with athletes, but right now, I’m just trying to take pre-requisite classes, and maybe later on I’ll take some of the higher-level psychology classes.”
Wieber joins a list that includes Billie Jean King, Robin Roberts, Picabo Street, and last year’s honoree, Lisa Fernandez, who works with Wieber in the athletic department as UCLA’s assistant softball coach, as recipients of the award. Wieber and Shawn Johnson are the only American gymnasts to win the world title the year prior to the Olympics.