The Issues That Led To Mary Lou Retton's Financial Struggles

Sports icon Mary Lou Retton, the first American woman to have brought home an individual Olympic gold medal for gymnastics, faced a serious health scare in October 2023, shocking many fans and the sports community at large. At the time, her daughters launched a fundraising campaign to cover her hospitalization expenses, which brought to light the fact that she was in a rough financial spot.

On Retton's SpotFund page, her daughter, McKenna Kelley, wrote that she was diagnosed with a "very rare form of pneumonia" and was "fighting for her life," necessitating her admission into intensive care. Kelley then asked for public support, urging everyone to offer prayers, as well as make financial contributions to help alleviate the burden of the hospital expenses. "We ask that if you could help in any way, that 1) you PRAY! and 2) if you could help us with finances for the hospital bill," she added.

The fact that Retton's family had to resort to crowdfunding was a surprise to many, especially since the gymnast was once a sports superstar. Despite retiring earlier than her peers, she had seemingly secured her financial future through a series of lucrative endorsement deals for big-name brands, including Energizer, Hasbro, McDonald's, and Purex. She also became the first woman to have her face printed on a Wheaties box. Through the years, she maintained her visibility through her work as a motivational speaker as well as television and film appearances, including a memorable stint as a contestant on "Dancing with the Stars." However, these projects apparently were not enough to sustain Retton financially in the long term. The Olympian later revealed that she had been grappling with additional health issues, which further strained her finances.

A string of medical treatments depleted her finances

According to Shayla Kelley, another one of Mary Lou Retton's daughters, their family didn't want Retton to bear the financial obligations brought about by her hospitalization. "We were just thinking, 'If she pulls through, the last thing we want her to have to think about is paying off these bills,'" she told the "Today" show. Soon enough, they mobilized to set up a fundraising initiative on Retton's behalf.

Meanwhile, the athlete opened up to Hoda Kotb about the circumstances that led to her inability to afford health insurance. She mentioned various factors, including her divorce from Shannon Kelley and a range of other medical concerns, which had an adverse impact on her financial situation. The COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated these difficulties, hindering her ability to earn a steady income. "When COVID hit and after my divorce, and all my pre-existing — I've had over 30 operations of orthopedic stuff — I couldn't afford it," she said. "But who would even know that this was going to happen to me?"

It goes without saying that the demands of gymnastics put a significant physical toll on Retton's health, which led to her having to undergo multiple surgeries. Even her appearance on "DWTS" resulted in various injuries, incurring another round of trips to the hospital. "I'm pretty beat up," she told People in 2018. "I popped a rib last week, so that's pretty painful. I have a bad knee, and I'm pretty sure I re-tore my rotator cuff, which I've had three operations on, so that's not fun. I'll probably have some more operations in the future, but it's alright."

Mary Lou revealed that she's 'all set' now

Thanks to the outpouring of support from fans and her peers, Mary Lou Retton's financial struggles have become more manageable. Her SpotFund page earned nearly half a million dollars, eclipsing its initial goal of $50,000. The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee also stepped in to offer financial aid after catching wind of Retton's situation.

"Upon learning of Mary Lou's condition, we immediately took action to expedite the application process for her family to receive assistance," the organization's spokesperson, Kate Hartman, told USA Today. "We are currently working through the necessary details in real-time and have reached out to Mary Lou's family to offer our assistance."

Retton is still far from being on a clean bill of health, considering she still requires supplemental oxygen for breathing. But in terms of health insurance, she revealed in her "Today" interview that she's "all set" now. She's also optimistic about her future and is determined to keep fighting. "When you face death in the eyes, I have so much to look forward to," she said. "I'm a fighter, and I'm not going to give it up."