By Charlie Perry @CharlieHPerry
The Opening Ceremony of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games is tonight on NBC. Some throughout Indian Country and across the globe are already looking ahead to Sunday afternoon as the U.S. women’s gymnastics team begins completion.
Ashton Locklear (Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina) will take part in her first Olympic games as a non-competing alternate for Team U.S.A. She traveled with her team to Rio de Janeiro Brazil after finishing with the second highest score in the uneven bars behind Madison Kocian in San Jose California at the Olympic Trials in June. Kocian ended the trials with the highest overall score of any competitor at 15.900 out of 16.000.
“I was sad that I wasn’t selected to be on the team, tears starting falling down my face and then she called my name as an alternate and I was so happy and still crying, but they were tears of joy,” Locklear said in an email with NDNsports.
Locklear is a specialist on the uneven bars, winning five gold medals since 2014 as she represented the United States in domestic and international competitions. She was crowned national champion in the uneven bars in 2014 at the World Championships in Nanning China.
After sustaining a shoulder injury in 2015 Locklear went through an intensive physical therapy process. Despite her injury she ended 2015 with a second place finish at the U.S. Championships in the uneven bars competition in 2015.
Locklear returned to world champion status in 2016 as she took home four straight gold medals. She topped off a successful year by punching her ticket to the Olympics in Rio with a silver medal at the Olympic Trials.
“It has been a whirlwind,” Locklear said.
Unless one of her five stating teammates sustains an injury or comes down with an illness before the start of Olympic competition Sunday, Locklear will remain on the sidelines at this year’s games. However she decided to forego NCAA eligibility for the time being to continue to pursue her dreams of an Olympic gold medal.
The Native American community is a piece of who Locklear is. She remains inspired by the youth of Indian Country and hopes to continue to be a roll model in the community.
Despite her rigorous schedule, Locklear recently found time to attend the Lumbee Homecoming Pow Wow at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke in late June. She signed autographs and spoke with local Native communities about remaining strong and working hard to achieve their dreams.
“I remember when I was a little girl being so inspired by the role models that I looked up to, so to know that I am that person to young Native Americans really touches my heart, Locklear said. “I want to be an example of someone who believes that setting goals, working hard and never giving up does pay off and that your dreams can come true. The native youth inspire me too. I want to let them know I am carrying Native America in my heart to Rio.”