"I don't think I understood the enormity of what she did," McKenna Kelley says of her mother Mary Lou Retton's gymnastics triumphs

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Mary Lou Retton, McKenna Kelley
Credit: Today

Mary Lou Retton may have been the first American woman to win all-around gold at the Olympics, but her daughter McKenna Kelley says that growing up, she didn’t quite understand all that her mother had accomplished.

Just days after scoring a near-perfect 10 on her floor routine at the NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championship, Kelley, 22, and her mother appeared on the Today show to open up about their relationship.

“I don’t think I understood the enormity of what she did and the groundbreaking gymnastics she did at the time. To me she’s just mom,” Kelley, a senior at Louisiana State University shared, adding that after making the decision to pursue gymnastics, she never felt pushed to succeed by her mother.

“I think people expect this elaborate answer of she made me run at 6 a.m in the morning … but she’s just mom to me. That’s all she is,” her daughter replied.

Agreeing with her daughter’s remarks, Retton, 51, said that although she enrolled all of her four daughters in gymnastics classes, she didn’t “put pressure on them.”

“I put my four daughters into a sport that I love. It’s woven into every fabric of my being. We’re a gymnastics family,” she shared. “Three stuck with it, one was a cheerleader. Her path was different than mine and I’m so proud of everything.”

In addition to McKenna, Retton has three other daughters with ex Shannon Kelley: Shayla Rae, 24, Skyla Brae, 19, and Emma Jean, 16.

Mary Lou Retton
Mary Lou Retton and McKenna Kelley
| Credit: Mary Lou Retton/Instagram

Although Kelley is a senior at LSU, she missed the entirety of her junior season due to injury. She would be eligible to remain on the team for one more season — but the student-athlete says she won’t be taking advantage of that opportunity.

“I haven’t officially announced this, but I have decided to graduate with my senior class. I will not be taking a fifth year,” she shared on Today, to which her mother enthusiastically replied, “Thank God.”

“That really was my final routine,” she shared, referring to her near-perfect floor routine, which led her team to an overall second-place victory.

Opening up about her decision to step away, Kelley shared that she feels “so at peace.”

“I don’t think another year of gymnastics could give me anything I needed more,” she said, adding that her team at LSU has been “so special” and she wants to finish her college journey with them.

Ahead of her daughter’s last outing on the floor, Retton revealed that she told Kelley to make sure to enjoy the moment.

“My last thought to you was, ‘Remember this.’ My words were, remember this, baby girl. This is your last routine,” she shared. “And the whole place, it was just such a moment.”

“It was picture perfect,” her daughter agreed.

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Kelley only began pursuing elite gymnastics five years ago at the age of 17, Today previously reported. That’s the same age Retton was when she retired from the sport in 1985 — a year after she became the first American woman to win the individual all-around gold medal in gymnastics at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

Of course, Retton was on hand to cheer her daughter on at the NCAA championships. She joined the crowd in repeatedly chanting “10” while flashing both hands toward the sky, and later covered her mouth as she teared up at her daughter’s success.

McKenna Kelley
McKenna Kelley
| Credit: Kyle Okita/CSM/Shutterstock

It was an especially astonishing return to the top for Kelley, who sat out her junior year because of a torn Achilles tendon.

“I really commend her,” LSU coach D-D Breaux told The Times-Picayune of Kelley. “She’s worked really hard to come back from a serious injury, did two events and was ready to do beam tonight. She has done an amazing job.”