In this Inspiring Athletes interview, Horton talks about how childhood hyperactivity set him on his current path, how his time at the University of Oklahoma shaped his personal faith in God and what he hopes to accomplish in London this summer:
From reading your story, it sounds like your parents, instead of putting you on medication, got you involved with gymnastics.
It’s absolutely true. I tell people all the time that if Ritalin had been a popular thing when I was young, my parents would have definitely put me on that. But I had way too much energy. I was out of control. So they put me in a sport that they thought was the most active. Gymnastics was perfect for me.
At what point did you begin chasing your Olympic dream?
It didn’t really hit me until 1996. I was watching the Games in Atlanta on TV. That’s when I first thought to myself, “Wow, this is what I want to do.” That became my number one goal at that point. I was 11 years old. After that, I started training much harder, but it wasn’t until 2004, when I qualified for my first Olympics Trials that I knew this was a possibility. I finished 12th that year and that pushed me to work hard the next four years to make the next team and in 2008 I made it.”
What principles have helped you get to this point?
Gymnastics is such a complex sport. It’s one of the best character building sports in the world. One of the big ones I’ve had to work on my whole life is how to manage my frustration. Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve been extremely competitive and I like to win. It doesn’t matter if it’s a video game or if I’m playing basketball outside with my buddies. I want to win. As a gymnast, the sport is so hard. You don’t learn things right away. It’s not one of those sports where you can jump up on the high bar and learn a new skill in one try. It takes a lot of patience. It takes a lot of time and perseverance. I used to get so frustrated when I couldn’t learn something. It sounds funny now that I think about it because it doesn’t happen anymore, but I used to throw fits when I was 12, 13 years old. I would cry when I couldn’t do something. I had to learn how to overcome that and be more patient and take my time. Now, I’m a much more disciplined person. I know how to be patient and I know how to take my time learning things.
What did you bring home from your experience at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing?
It’s not every day that you get to look at yourself in the mirror and think, “Wow, I have been blessed enough to finally accomplish one of my big dreams.” It was something I’d worked for my whole life. I remember stepping off the plane and seeing all the banners with the Olympic rings. I was just so thankful—more so than for the results. I was thankful to be a part of it and to represent my country in the pinnacle event of my sport. The Olympic medals were awesome. I’ll never forget competing with the team. But just being a part of it, I’ll cherish that forever.
Tell me about your faith journey.
I grew up in a Baptist church here in Houston. I always had God in my life. I always believed in God and had faith in God, but it wasn’t until I got to college that I took my own faith to another level. As a kid, you do it because your parents make you do it. It’s just part of your weekly routine. But it wasn’t until I was challenged with the things outside of my family, you know, the worldly temptations, when my faith really grew. I had to turn to Him. As my training got more difficult and as I was trying to balance school and what my friends wanted me to do with gymnastics, I had to turn to God. My faith grew tremendously. Now that I’m married, my wife and I can work together and push each other in our growth with the Lord. My gymnastics has gotten better. My faith has gotten stronger. God is number one in my life and He’s the reason that I have the success that I’ve had.
What was the spiritual catalyst for your growth in college?
It was a couple of my teammates. My best man from my wedding is one of my best friends in the world. His name is Jacob Messina. We were freshman together. We lived together all the way through college. We shared the same beliefs. Our faith was really strong. We challenged each other. A lot of our friends would go to the bars and party. It was tempting. We’re human beings. Every now and then we’d fall short, but we would challenge each other. We’d remind each other that this wasn’t what God wanted us to do. Before knew it, probably about the end of my sophomore year, we decided to start a Bible study. We invited a bunch of guys from our gymnastics team. There was a lot of accountability for each other. Once we got more people involved, it just helped us grow. We had six or seven guys that would come over to the house. Jacob played the drums. Another one of my friends played guitar and we would worship. My faith became so much stronger once I was on my own.
Are you hopeful that God will use you to be a witness in London and wherever else this path might take you?
That’s always been my prayer. I pray every night, whether its just through my team or somehow if he uses me on a bigger scale, is that he takes the platform that he’s given me and uses me, speaks through me—not only through my words but through my actions as an athlete. The Olympics is the biggest thing for gymnastics. I just pray for opportunities and I know He’ll speak to me and show me those opportunities where I’ll be able to show my faith. I go to Dr. Ed Young’s church down here and he preached about, “When is it right to hide your faith and when is it right to show your faith?” He told us that when you feel like hiding it, you need to show it, and when you feel like you’re being prideful and you want to show it, hide it. That really hit me hard. It would be really easy when you’re on live TV and the whole world is watching you to want to hide your faith. You want to avoid the persecution that the world is going to give you for it. But it’s in that moment when I really need to show it. That’s when I need to use my platform as a gymnast to show what the Lord has done for me.
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