Nastia Liukin was 18 when she won five medals in the 2008 Olympic Games, including a gold medal for the women's all-around gymnastics competition.
The athlete, television personality and NBC Sports analyst, now 30, credits her parents, world champion gymnasts Valeri Liukin and Anna Kotchneva, for much of her success. Liukin's parents moved from Russia to the U.S. when she was two years old; they ran a Texas gymnastics studio and encouraged their young daughter to find activities she was passionate about, gymnastics or not.
"They really wanted me to find my own happiness and identity," Liukin told TODAY Parents, recalling that her mom encouraged her to try piano lessons, but Liukin cried on the way to lessons because she wanted to be in the gym. "I think pretty early on they realized truly how much love and passion I had for gymnastics and when they saw that, they weren’t going to take that away from me."
Still, Liukin recalls there were days — when dealing with an injury or finding the sport difficult — she would tell her mom she wanted to quit.
"She would always say, 'That’s totally fine. You can quit, but not today.'" said Liukin. "She would make me go back to the gym the next day and the next day until I had at least one good day. Then she’d say, 'OK, now you can quit, we’ll enroll you back in the public school and find another activity you want to do.'"
"I would always be like, 'I don’t know what you’re talking about, I never said I wanted to quit.'" Liukin continued. "Basically the moral was you can never quit on a bad day and I think it’s super important because especially as kids — or even me now as an adult — sometimes you go through things in life and it's not going your way and you want to give up, but you can't quit on a bad day. It's so important to instill that in your kids."
Starting July 6, Liukin, along with other athletes like Olympic figure skater Johnny Weir and two-time Super Bowl champion coach Tony Dungy, will be sharing their athletic talents and motivational words this summer through NBC Sports Camp, a free 4-week digital camp for kids ages 7-12 that will encourage young people to stay engaged with fitness and sports this summer. (Disclosure: NBC Sports and TODAY are both part of parent company NBC Universal.)
Liukin says during her sessions, she hopes to give kids tips on how to stay in their game mentally while handling the pressures and expectations they may feel as athletes. And, she'll be doling out some of the advice her mom and dad gave her as a kid.
"My parents always encouraged me to be a good person more than a good athlete," said Liukin, adding that her biggest advice for kids is to try new things until they find something they truly love doing. "You don't know unless you try... and you may like something, but then you may try something else and like it more and develop a bigger passion for that."
During the years before she retired from gymnastics in 2012, Liukin was known for her pink, sparkly leotards, and says she tells girls today to be themselves without apologizing.
"You don’t have to conform to what society thinks," said Liukin. "I loved pink. The more sparkles on my leotard the better. I also trained seven hours a day and I'd come home and my hands were bloody and I had calluses and it was a really tough sport at the same time."