The Transformation Of McKayla Maroney From Toddler To 25

The following article contains references to eating disorders, addiction, and sexual abuse. 

McKayla Maroney wowed gymnastics fans around the world every time she took flight from the vault apparatus, and her flawless routines helped her earn quite the medal haul. However, while her star burned bright, her athletic career would be brief.

Maroney's list of accomplishments include winning two Olympic medals and three World Championships gold medals, and over a dozen other awards in national and international competitions. During her career, Maroney's mastery of the Amanar vault was so impressive she made the judges' jaws drop to the floor at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, per Daily Mail. The "Fierce Five" member didn't always have to win gold to prove that she was a true champion, and she performed at the top of her game while silently enduring trauma that the general public was completely unaware was happening.

In May 2021, Maroney tweeted that "it felt like my purpose" to go to the Olympics, but she had no idea what she was getting herself into when she began pursuing her dream. "I was never informed about the costs, and wish I would've known some of them," she wrote. "For example that it would take me 5 full years to mentally and physically heal from the intensity of what I went through." Read on to learn how she transformed into a top athlete and what she decided to do when gymnastics were no longer an option.

Why McKayla Maroney quit gymnastics at a young age

McKayla Maroney was born on December 9, 1995. The Long Beach, California, native became interested in gymnastics as a toddler, thanks in part to her obsession with the movie "Tarzan," according to the Los Angeles Times. In a 2014 interview with the outlet, her mother, Erin Maroney, said that McKayla wouldn't stop imitating the ape-like movements of the film's titular character. "'We'd be in the grocery store and I'd be asking her to walk upright, please,'" she recalled. In her USA Gymnastics profile, McKayla explained that her mom thought gymnastics would help her burn off the "insane amounts of energy" that she exhibited.

When McKayla was 18 months old, Erin started bringing her to mommy and me classes. In a May 2021 tweet, the future elite athlete recalled how much fun she had during those early days. "The gym is like this huge playground. You bounce on trampolines, swing on ropes, and play in pits," she wrote. By the time McKayla was 2, she shared in a 2012 episode of "USA Gymnastics: Behind the Team, she was learning the skills that would help her become an Olympic champ. However, she faced a minor setback on the road to superstardom and quit the sport for six months. "I needed my naps," she said in the special. She recalled crying in class and refusing to move because she was so grumpy. When she returned, she fell in love with gymnastics "all over again."

McKayla Maroney carpooled with a future member of the Fierce Five

McKayla Maroney's father was once a 6-foot-2-inch quarterback for Purdue University, so she likely got some of her natural athletic talent from him (via Los Angeles Times). As she grew up, she worried that she would inherit something else from her dad. "People would just tell me all the time, 'You're going to be so tall. You're not going to be able to go to the Olympics,'" she said during a 2016 GymCastic interview. Luckily, she ended up being the same height as her mother: 5-foot-4-inches.

When the petite powerhouse was training at Gym-Max Academy of Gymnastics in Costa Mesa, California, she met her BFF and future Fierce Five member Kyla Ross. "We were carpool buddies," Maroney said in a 2013 USA Gymnastics interview. However, they wouldn't remain gym-mates. In 2009, Maroney decided to transfer to the All Olympia Gymnastics Center, where she trained with coaches Artur Akopyan and Galina Marinova (via Bleacher Report). 

Maroney told Inside Gymnastics Magazine that Ross played a pivotal role in her decision. She explained that her friend had made the national team and was traveling with one of their coaches, so she wasn't getting the amount of coaching she needed. "It was move gyms, or become an ice skater cuz I was really about to quit," Maroney tweeted in 2021. "I was balking on all my skills and felt depressed with how stagnant things got."

The moment McKayla Maroney realized going to the Olympics was within her grasp

Switching gyms ended up paying off for McKayla Maroney in a big way. She was excelling in competitions, but one particular success made her realize going to the Olympics was within reach: her first place finish in vault at the 2011 World Championships in Tokyo. "That was the moment that I was like, this is gonna become my dream, and I'm gonna make it reality," she shared with Inside Gymnastics. After the event, she revealed that she got a little helpful advice from a former Olympian. "It feels amazing to be the best vaulter in the world. Alicia [Sacramone] told me to be aggressive and that's what I tried to do," she told USA Gymnastics.

Maroney told the Los Angeles Times that her teammates poked fun at her facial expression as she stood on the podium with her gold medal around her neck. "They said I wasn't smiling," she stated. "I think I was smiling. I felt like I was smiling. I don't know, it is just so great." Little did she know that the whole world would be talking about her face just a few months later. But before she became an Olympic meme, she had to make it to the U.S. Olympic Trials.

Why McKayla Maroney was not impressed with her second-place Olympic finish

McKayla Maroney's journey to the 2012 Olympics in London was far from easy. Less than a month before the U.S. Olympic Trials, she suffered a nasal fracture and a concussion during warmups at the Visa Championships (via FloGymnastics). She was cleared to compete in the Trials, where her high-scoring vault secured her spot on the U.S. Women's Gymnastics team (via Reuters). The other gymnasts who would be joining her in London were her childhood friend, Kyla Ross, as well as Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, and Jordyn Wieber. By the time they got there, Maroney had been dealt another blow in the form of a broken big toe. "I've worked so hard to be here. I can ignore the pain," she told The New York Times.

She did exactly that, and the vault she called "godly" in an interview with Inside Gymnastics Magazine helped her and her compatriots bring home the gold in the team all-around competition. However, when she got her shot at an individual medal in her best event, she failed to stick her landing and finished second. While she was standing on the podium, she scrunched her lips to the side and launched a million memes, along with a "McKayla Maroney is Not Impressed" Tumblr page. The explanation for her annoyed facial expression was simple: She was disappointed in herself. "At the end of the day, I was sad. I was upset. And I was not impressed," she told Inside Gymnastics.

McKayla Maroney played a murder suspect on Bones after fracturing a bone

After the Olympics, McKayla Maroney got to make her unimpressed face with Barack Obama and rubbed elbows with celebrities at the MTV VMAs. However, she wasn't just enjoying the perks of being an Olympian. While touring with her teammates in September 2012, she fractured her tibia and had to undergo surgery immediately, she told GymCastic. In the same interview, she said she also decided to have surgery on her injured toe and had screws removed from her leg because they were "popping out." After recovering from the procedures, she went on to win gold in the vault at the 2013 World Championships in Antwerp, Belgium.

Weeks later, Maroney found herself unable to hit the gym due to an avulsion fracture to her right patella. While recovering, she received an offer to appear in an episode of "Bones" as a murder suspect who also happened to be a gymnast. She had previously scored a recurring role on "Hart of Dixie." Maroney told Inside Gymnastics that she's wanted to act since she was a child, but her sport just demanded too much of her time.

McKayla Maroney fought back against hackers

In 2014, McKayla Maroney was a victim of the hackers who stole nude photos from celebrities and leaked them online in a massive invasion of privacy that became known as "The Fappening." Its dozens of famous victims included Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, and Amanda Seyfried.

In a since-deleted September 1, 2014 tweet, Maroney accused someone of creating "fake photos" of her (via Page Six). And when adult sites shared those images purporting to show the gymnast, her lawyers threatened legal action against the publishers. According to TMZ, one letter from her attorneys said she was underage in the pictures, while another informed the offending parties that Maroney owned the copyright to them. This tactic proved somewhat effective, as at least one website took the images down. According to BuzzFeed, Redditors were also informed that any nude photos of Maroney or links providing access to them would be removed from the website.

2014 wasn't just a tough year for the gymnast because of the hacking ordeal. A month earlier, she told USA Gymnastics that she was feeling "really emotional" at the U.S. Secret Classic because she was unable to compete. She revealed that she had developed tendinosis in her knee after the 2013 World Championships. "There was no blood flow in my leg, and there was way too much scar tissue," she said, explaining this required yet another surgery.

Why McKayla Maroney gave up on making it to the Olympics again

The Olympics in Rio de Janeiro took place in 2016, and McKayla Maroney had originally hoped to be there. However, there would be no road to redemption for the brilliant vaulter. While she made her airborne twisting and spinning look effortless, her stellar performances had taken their toll on her body. In February 2016, she told GymCastic that her days of competing were behind her, but refused to say that she was retiring. Instead, she endorsed a tweet that read, "Can we just say she's evolving bc it makes her sound like a Pokemon and I like it."

Maroney told GymCastic that she began suffering from recurring burnouts at the gym in October 2014. "I was so unhealthy and tired that I couldn't get out of bed," she recalled (via WKYC). "I was just holding on to that hope that I was going to make (the Olympics). And I wanted to make it so bad," she said. "But eventually you move on. And that's OK."

Luckily, Maroney had another pursuit she was passionate about. As she told Us Weekly, she wanted to create "vulnerable pop" music. "I have some demos done and I'm going to be showing them to some bigger people in the industry and we'll see where that takes me," she shared with Seventeen.

Fans didn't know how to feel about the new McKayla Maroney

In May 2017, McKayla Maroney shocked some of her Instagram followers by sharing a now-deleted video of herself dancing in a black thong. The racy footage was so unexpected that she later reassured her fans that she "didn't get hacked" (via The New York Post). She advised critics of the post to quit following her, and she had another message for them on X, formerly known as Twitter. "Hey, im just doing me. if u want me to be a role model so bad, get inspired by how i give 0 [f***s] and go do u," she wrote. A month later, Hollywood Life reported that she showed off a few more of her moves on her Instagram stories while teasing a cameo in a Wade Hampton music video.

Maroney's new image ditched the slicked-back ponytails with scrunchies and added more makeup. She revealed to Seventeen that some fans were thrown off when they saw her rocking over-lined lips and eyelash extensions. "I don't mean to freak anybody out. At the end of the day, I have changed," she told the magazine. "I can't blame anybody for saying, 'Oh, she changed!' You know, because I have." She credited her friend and beauty vlogger, Alexa Losey, for helping her get more into makeup. Experimenting with cosmetics made her look so different that some fans were convinced that she'd undergone a cosmetic procedure. However, she denied speculation that she had gotten lip injections.

McKayla Maroney spoke out against the doctor who abused her for years

McKayla Maroney first revealed that she was one of Dr. Larry Nassar's hundreds of sexual abuse victims in a 2017 X, formerly known as Twitter, post. She accused the former USA Gymnastics national team doctor of molesting her under the guise of performing a "medically necessary treatment." The following year, she spoke to Dateline about her horrifying experiences (via NBC News). She revealed the abuse started in 2011, the very first time Nassar examined her, and happened "hundreds" of times after that.

At the World Championships in Tokyo, his behavior escalated to the point that she feared for her life. "I thought I was going to die," she said. "I didn't feel like it was him anymore. It was this other thing that took over." Maroney learned from teammates Aly Raisman and Jordyn Wieber that Nassar was also molesting them, but it wasn't until 2015 that USA Gymnastics became aware of what was going on and sent a consultant to talk to Maroney about the abuse. 

By that point, she said she was "suicidal." In January 2018, her impact statement was read at Nassar's sentencing hearing. She described him as "a monster of a human being," and expressed her hope that he would spend the rest of his life in jail so that he would "never prey upon another child." On January 24, 2018, Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison, per ABC News.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

McKayla Maroney starved herself after tragedy struck

In January 2019, McKayla Maroney shared the tragic news that her father, Mike Maroney, had passed away at the age of 59. "Love u dad. I can't believe it's real. I don't want to. I'll miss you forever. Rest in peace. You were the most incredible dad," her now-deleted X, formerly known as Twitter, message read (via People). A year later, she used her Instagram stories to reveal his cause of death.

As reported by Popculture, McKayla recounted her dad informing the family that he was addicted to pain pills and was going to try to kick the habit on his own while staying at a hotel. "He died trying to detox, quit from pain pills," she said. "He could have just gone to a rehab place and done it right. He didn't and he passed away."

In a post on her health and wellness Instagram page, McKayla revealed that she was "at a true low point" in her life when her dad died, and it wasn't just because she lost a loved one. She revealed that she'd been isolating herself and rarely leaving the house. The prospect of attending her father's funeral made her do something dangerous. "I then fasted 'starved' myself for 10 days to be skinny enough for his funeral," she wrote. "I almost didn't want to go, just because of how I looked." She credited a binge-eating course with preventing her from engaging in such behavior again.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

If you are struggling with an eating disorder, or know someone who is, help is available. Visit the National Eating Disorders Association website or contact NEDA's Live Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. You can also receive 24/7 Crisis Support via text (send NEDA to 741-741).

McKayla Maroney released a timely tune about life under lockdown

During the early days of her music career in 2016, McKayla Maroney listed Taylor Swift as one of her biggest musical influences. She told Us Weekly that her "favorite thing to sing about is love." However, it wouldn't be until March 2020 that she finally dropped her first single, "Wake Up Call." A month later, she'd discovered a new musical muse: the COVID-19 pandemic.

Maroney tried her hand at rapping in "COVID Lockdown," which featured hip-hop artist JIG LeFrost. "Icing on the cake / gaining weight / COVID lockdown / I don't want to wait," Maroney sang. She complained about a host of other pandemic problems, like having to stand six feet away from other people and missing her "bae." 

She tweeted that the song was meant to funny, but suggested that it was just what the overworked doctor ordered. "We could all use a laugh right now," she wrote. In another tweet, she updated her fans on what she was doing to keep herself busy during lockdown. She revealed that she was taking singing lessons, cleaning, sunbathing, working out, and planning her next music moves. "Distraction is powerful!" she wrote. "Find a way to turn this time into a blessing in disguise."

McKayla Maroney revealed her next big endeavor after a health scare

In 2021, McKayla Maroney made a gymnastics comeback of sorts by appearing in a comedic GEICO ad. She was also hospitalized again, and this time it had nothing to do with gymnastics. According to People, she used her Instagram stories to document a trip to the ER, where she learned that kidney stones were the cause of the vomiting and abdominal pain she'd been experiencing all day. Her subsequent surgery caused an infection due to a temporary stent. "The morning before removal I started feeling so sick, I passed out and hit my head on the corner of my bedroom wall," she wrote.

Luckily, Maroney fully recovered from her ordeal, and teased a big new project when she returned to social media: a book about her life. "I'm extremely excited to share my story, and all the things I learned from being an elite gymnast," she tweeted. "It felt too hard to write about before, but I'm ready now." She endured a lot of pain and sacrificed so much to win her silver Olympic medal, which she has now embraced. "I am the person I am today because of that fall," she told Inside Gymnastics. "And if you ask me if I could go back and win a gold, I would say, 'No thank you. I love my silver medal.'"

McKayla Maroney testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee

McKayla Maroney's fight to shed light on the suffering she endured during her gymnastics career didn't end after Larry Nassar's prison sentence began. In September 2021, she joined her former teammates, Aly Raisman and Simone Biles, in testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee to demand accountability from the FBI for the agency's missteps while investigating sexual abuse claims against the gymnasts' former team doctor.

In her opening statement, McKayla claimed that the FBI had lied about what she told the agents who interviewed her. She also accused the agency of causing further trauma to Nassar's victims by shielding the abuser. "I am tired of waiting for people to do the right thing because my abuse was enough and we deserve justice," she said (via C-SPAN). Maroney addressed what she viewed as the failures of USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee as well, accusing the organizations of conspiring with the FBI to cover up Nassar's crimes.

After her testimony, Maroney posted some photos on Instagram from a trip to D.C. that was far different from her 2012 White House visit. This time, she and her teammates weren't there to celebrate being victorious representatives of their country. Instead, they were now visiting as courageous survivors of their country's failed systems. However, the women's deep camaraderie was evident in pictures, as Maroney held hands with Biles and hugged Raisman. "Life is always changing, but this bond is forever," she wrote.

She sued the FBI and was accused of being in a cult

In December 2021, the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee and USA Gymnastics agreed to pay $380 million to settle hundreds of civil lawsuits filed by Larry Nassar's victims. The following year, McKayla Maroney, and a large group of other gymnasts, decided that it was time for the FBI to have its day in court. In their civil suit against the law enforcement agency, the group demanded $1 billion in damages for allowing Nassar's abusive behavior to continue. Eventually, the Justice Department agreed to settle 139 cases for a total of $138.7 million in 2024, per The New York Times.

Also in 2021, the Daily Beast reported that Maroney was possibly a member of the Church of the Master Angels after she took a 2019 selfie while wearing a necklace from the religious organization. Members have provided testimonials claiming that the church's leader, Master John Douglas, can use the power of prayer to heal. In a since-deleted YouTube video, one member even claimed Douglas cured his HIV by seeing things about the disease "that modern medicine didn't know."

Naturally, Douglas and his followers have skeptics. According to cult expert Steven Hassan, the church is a cult in the making. Maroney admitted to Elle that she had attended a few of the church's events starting in 2016 and purchased the necklace to ward off evil. "But I'm not religious; I am not in a cult," she explained. "None of it is true."

McKayla Maroney realized she was in a cult

Before her Elle interview was published, McKayla Maroney added disclaimers to captions of any Instagram photos where she was wearing the necklace. She revealed she had thrown it away, explaining, "I thought it was 'angelic' and of God, and 'spiritual protection' but I was wrong."

In January 2023, Maroney appeared on Revelation Church's YouTube series "Let's Talk About It" with host J.T. Boyd. "I fell into a cult," she admitted. She never mentioned the Church of the Master Angels by name, but when she spoke about seeing angels and demons, she seemingly blamed her former church for the latter's presence. "The demons that they were having and putting in me were ruining my life," she said. Maroney credited some intensive Bible study with setting her straight, and believed she found a more suitable place of worship at Revelation.

When Boyd joked that some people think Revelation Church is a cult, she seemed stunned. However, the church's leader, Prophet Lovy Elias, has some things in common with the man who previously got Maroney involved in what she described as "witchcraft." On his YouTube page, Elias can also be seen practicing faith healing. In one video, a wheelchair-ridden woman with cancer gets up and dances after he says, "Unclean spirit, depart from her!"

Her social media disappearance was due to a health issue

McKayla Maroney only shared a handful of Instagram posts in 2023, including some photos that she snapped while attending the Grammy Awards that February. She revealed she was among those who found Sam Smith's musical performance unholy. "Sam's Smiths performance was definitely demonic and I had to rebuke it in Jesus name," she wrote.

Maroney added that she gets stressed attending events like the Grammys and suggested she didn't want to be there. " ... I had to be here under contract," she wrote. But when she disappeared from Instagram for a few months later that year, she explained her absence was related to a physical ailment and not her mental well-being. "I slept a total of 10 days out of 3 months," she wrote in an October 2023 post. "I'd like to say it was a nightmare, but you have to sleep to have nightmares."

Maroney revealed she had consulted with several doctors about what was causing her severe insomnia and was eventually diagnosed with histamine intolerance. She explained that she was having a bad reaction to foods containing large amounts of histamine, comparing her body's adverse response to being covered in mosquito bites. A dietary change helped put an end to this irritating sleep disruption. Of her health issues, she wrote, "I just want to be normal — but it is what it is. I'm just gonna share about it, and hopefully help someone!!"