Deaf gymnast encourages BYU students to ‘love who you are’

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Former BYU gymnast Aimee Walker-Pond spoke to BYU American Sign Language club students on April 7 about overcoming challenges being deaf and blind in one eye. (Impact Publishing)

Olympic gymnast Aimee Walker-Pond has been passionate about gymnastics ever since she was a little girl.

There is something that makes Walker-Pond unique in the gymnastics world: she is blind in one eye and deaf.

Walker-Pond has been facing challenges since the day she was born — from having the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck three times to needing braces as an infant because her hip sockets weren’t developed. Even walking normally was expected to be nearly impossible.

Walker-Pond shared her life struggles and what she did to overcome adversity with the BYU American Sign Language Club on Thursday, April 7.

“I want you all to be optimistic. I want you guys to know that you can succeed at anything you try,” Walker-Pond communicated through a translator. “Love who you are. Be yourself.”

After watching her cousins compete, she tried to enroll in a class.

But she was turned down.

Walker-Pond’s cousin sprained her ankle, creating an opening on the team. Walker-Pond took her place.

It didn’t take long for the coach the figure out Walker-Pond was deaf after calling her name several times. To Walker-Pond’s surprise though, the coach was impressed with her performance and kept her in the class.

“I taught her (the coach) sign language and she did speech therapy with me,” Walker-Pond said.

Walker-Pond’s gymnastics career took off as she trained throughout her childhood and overcame several injuries. She represented the U.S. Olympic team in Russia as a 16-year-old before competing at UCLA and BYU.

Walker-Pond competed at the level of international elite, something no other athlete with similar disabilities had ever accomplished.

“Aimee’s not deaf. She just can’t hear,” UCLA head women’s gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field said in a press release. “Why would she need two eyes, when she has one? She has no excuses.”

Walker-Pond said she had to learn to accept herself the way she was and use her challenges to help others. Her excellence in gymnastics proves to the deaf and hearing community alike the importance of determination and hard work.

“I want people to not give up. I want people to know God has a plan,” she said. “Try new things. If you feel like you tried something and you can’t do it, try something else.”

Walker-Pond transferred to BYU in 2004 after a year with the UCLA national championship team. She admits it was tough to leave behind an Olympic-level team, but she needed an academic program to accommodate ASL.

Walker-Pond said her life changed at BYU because she didn’t have to worry about the atmosphere. She instantly felt unity, especially on her gymnastics team.

But more hardships were yet to come. Walker-Pond earned a personal-best 9.725 in the vault her sophomore year before suffering a broken ankle. She was told her gymnastics career was finished, but she miraculously recovered as she fought hard to come back and compete.

“Overcoming all that, I felt so burdened, like I couldn’t do it by myself,” Walker-Pond said. “If you feel like you have these challenges you can’t overcome, that you can’t get through this trial, ask your Heavenly Father in prayer. He won’t ignore you. He’ll answer your prayers.”

Walker-Pond scored 9.825 in the bars as a junior and was able to compete the entire season. Her senior year ended with a shoulder injury.

Now a mother of four with another baby on the way, Walker-Pond’s love for gymnastics lives on. She and her husband Derek are owners of Champion Sports Center in Saratoga Springs, Utah. Their gym offers a variety of classes and accommodates those who are hearing-impaired.

Walker-Pond’s influence continues to touch the lives of many.

“Aimee has filled our hearts with the fire of warmth and love and inspired us all to become better,” President of the International Gymnastics Federation Bruno Grandi said in a press release.

The book “No Excuses: The Story of Elite Gymnast Aimee Walker-Pond” by Adam Kempler is sold at the BYU bookstore.

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