THE PRESS RELEASE ISSUED AT THE WOMAN’S Hospital of Texas in Houston announced that 6 lb. 3 oz. Shayla Rae Kelley had “flipped into the world,” at 12:11 p.m. on April 12. “Father and baby are resting comfortably,” the release went on. “The mother has never rested a day in her life.”
The mother is Mary Lou Retton, 27, the 4’9″ spark plug who vaulted to fame in 1984 when she won the individual all-around gold medal in gymnastics at the Los Angeles Olympics. For Retton, who has built a profitable career as a motivational speaker and corporate spokeswoman since her retirement from competition in 1986, childbirth proved more challenging than nailing a perfect Tsukahara with a double twist. Because of Retton’s low amniotic fluid level, doctors decided to induce labor; 6 hours later, the baby’s head had still not budged. “She wouldn’t come out,” says Retton, “so they finally did a cesarean. The doctor kidded me afterwards. She told me she knew I was a gymnast so she took an extra 20 minutes to sew up my stomach muscles really tight.”
Retton and her husband, Shannon Kelley, 29, a former University of Texas quarterback who is now a financial analyst, were immensely relieved when Shayla finally appeared. (The baby is named after Shannon’s favorite song, “Shayla,” by former Cars guitarist Elliot Easton.) “I was so happy and excited she was all right,” says Retton. “But Shannon just doubled over and started bawling, he was so moved.”
Retton, who gained 23 pounds during her pregnancy and worked out on a stationary bicycle until two weeks before giving birth, arrived home to stacks of cards and letters, including congratulations from fellow Houston residents George and Barbara Bush, who sent Shayla an autographed copy of former first dog Millie’s book (pawprinted by Millie and signed by Barbara). Already, the couple’s sprawling five-bedroom house in Houston is littered with baby paraphernalia; a mechanized swing sits in the front hall, and dozens of formula bottles line the kitchen counter. “She’s such an easy baby,” says Retton, gingerly cradling Shayla in her arms. “All she does is eat, sleep and poop. She’s gained a pound and a half in two weeks. I’m calling her my little George Foreman.”
Retton is confident she can balance career and motherhood. The first woman athlete to grace the cover of a Wheaties box, she currently works as a spokeswoman for Revco, a regional drug store chain, as well as for Hanes hosiery and Tyson’s Holly Farms chicken. And she and Shannon have just finished the pilot for a children’s television program called Mary Lou’s Flip Flop Shop. Retton hopes taping for the show will take place in Houston, but if she has to hit the road for more than one night, she’ll take Shayla with her.
For now, Retton isn’t planning to groom her daughter for gymnastics stardom. “If she’s interested, I’ll let her take lessons,” she says. “But we plan to expose her to a lot of different things and let her choose her own interests.”
Some people aren’t waiting for Shayla to decide. John Krimsky, executive director of the U.S. Olympic Committee, sent Retton a congratulatory note, adding that the USOC is holding a place for Shayla on the 2016 Olympic team. And Retton’s former coach, Bela Karolyi, who has been talking retirement recently, wrote, “I guess I’m going to have to keep the gym open longer than I thought.”
ANNE MAIER in Houston