Hall of Fame gymnast Wendy Hilliard reflects on representing the US on world stage

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Hall of Fame gymnast Wendy Hilliard reflects on representing the US on world stage

Superstar American gymnasts Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas and others have certainly helped shine a light on the sport in recent years. 

A legendary American gymnast is doing her part to build off that momentum by making sure young athletes who are interested in the sport, particularly those who are growing up in underserved communities, are not left behind.

Wendy Hilliard rose to fame when she became the first Black rhythmic gymnast to represent the U.S. on the global stage. She later launched the Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation in 1996. The organization seeks to “empower the lives of young people from underserved communities by improving physical and emotional health through the sport of gymnastics.”

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Wendy Hilliard, of the Wendy Hilliard Rhythmic Gymnastics, attends The Women in Sports Foundation 40th Annual Salute to Women in Sports Awards Gala, celebrating the most accomplished women in sports and the girls they inspire at Cipriani Wall Street on Oct. 16, 2019 in New York City. (Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Women In Sports Foundation)

“I became a coach after I retired… moved to New York. My gymnast made the Olympic team in 1996, and then I wanted to go back to grassroots training because the sport was not so diverse. So I started a foundation and we were pretty quiet for a while,” Hilliard told Fox News Digital.

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Hilliard coached former rhythmic gymnast Aliane Baquerot Wilson, who was a member of the national senior group. Wilson, along with Kate Nelson, Mandy James, Becky Turner, Challen Sievers and Brandi Siegel, were selected to compete at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.

Despite the foundation’s relatively quiet start, a strategic partnership and Douglas winning gold in all-around and team categories and the 2012 Summer Olympics in London helped the foundation reach new heights.

Wendy Hilliard attends an event

Wendy Hilliard attends the Women’s Sports Foundation’s Annual Salute To Women In Sports at Cipriani Wall Street on Oct. 12, 2023 in New York City. (Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images for WSF)

“We started a partnership with the Harlem Children’s Zone and then Gabby Douglas won in 2012… and it’s been on an amazing trajectory since then,” Hilliard said. “We do partnerships that allow us to raise money to make it as (affordable) as possible and then we give scholarships to those that still need financial support.”

When she was competing, Hilliard said she took great pride in representing the U.S., and she understood the responsibility that came with her position. She also said traveling across the globe highlighted the similarities that exist between people around the world.

Wendy Hilliard attends an event

Wendy Hilliard attends The Women’s Sports Foundation’s Annual Salute to Women in Sports at New York Historical Society on Oct. 13, 2021 in New York City. (Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Women’s Sports Foundation)

“It was really exciting. I really appreciated for one, being able to see the world. The other thing it does when you go internationally is you see how much people are alike. When all the athletes (from countries across the world) get together the one thing that it does teach is that we all train alot… we all have intense coaches and intense lifestyles. But, to represent the United States… I was very proud of course, but it is a responsibility, so I trained hard and the benefit was to be able to see the world.”

Hilliard has performed on Broadway in “Candide.” She also hosts the “Champion Sports Moms Podcast.”

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Hillard’s dedication to helping children develop their Olympic dreams was recognized in 2011 when she received the Rings of Gold award from the U.S. Olympic Committee. 

The 2024 Summer Olympics begins July 26 and conclude Aug. 11 in Paris.

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