Jenny DeMatteis can now boast owning not one but two T-shirts signed by Olympic gymnasts.
The Bartlett resident was among about 100 people who got a chance to meet two-time U.S. Olympian Kerri Strug on Friday afternoon at Midwest Elite Gymnastics Academy in Elgin.
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DeMatteis said she already has a T-shirt signed by Romania's Nadia Comaneci, but getting Strug's autograph held special meaning.
"I remember her dramatic vault. It was just outstanding. Being as old as I am, I'm excited to see her," said DeMatteis, a former high school gymnast who works at Gym Stars in Addison.
Strug, now 35, made history at the 1996 Olympics when she landed her last vault on an injured ankle and helped the U.S. team earn the gold medal. She also competed in the 1992 Olympics.
Strug was in the Chicago area to promote the U.S. Classic, the final qualifying event for women's gymnastics for the U.S. Gymnastics Championships. The U.S. Classic will take place July 27 at the Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates.
Gymnastics holds no guarantees but teaches great lessons, Strug said.
"Persistence and dedication, and managing your time well. Get back up and try again. Those are really important life skills," she said.
What matters is to be willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish your dreams, Strug said.
"Gymnastics is wonderful, and I'm so proud of my accomplishments as an Olympian," she said.
Strug lives in her native Tucson, where she works as program manager for the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, part of the U.S. Department of Justice. And no, she doesn't drive a Camaro; she drives an SUV, she said in response to a question from a young gymnast.
She does miss flying high in the air, she admitted.
"When you can do things that the average person cannot, it's really cool, right?" she said.
These days, she gets her vicarious kicks through her 18-month-old son, whom she enrolled in gymnastics when he was just a year old, she said.
Eight-year-old Abigail Rosborough of Huntley was first in line to get Strug's autograph. She and her cousin, gymnast Hannah Siedsma of Elgin, also 8, watched just a few days ago a video of Strug's memorable vault, Abigail said.
"That was really good," she said.
Twin sisters Jasmine and Tiffany Filawo, of Streamwood, said they had never heard of Strug but learned all about her accomplishment from their gymnastics teacher.
The twins said it was cool to meet Strug and hope that someday they'll meet their idol -- U.S. Olympian Gabrielle Douglas.
Midwest Elite Gymnastics Academy co-owner Bill Williamson said this was the second time the gym hosted an appearance by a U.S. Olympian, after John Roethlisberger visited in 2007.
"For us it's pretty exciting that the kids get a chance to meet an Olympian," he said. "It further strengthens our spirit and the hard work our kids put into it."