Before two-time Olympic gymnast Sam Mikulak, 23, made a name for himself in international athletics, he became a high school student to remember.
It was the first day of his senior year at Corona del Mar High School, and Mikulak’s English teacher, Laura Holk, was trying to learn her students’ names.
“To help me do this, I asked each student to tell me something unique or humorous about himself or herself,” Holk said. “Most students gave me a typical answer, but Sam really surprised me.”
“Show her, Sam,” his classmates chanted.
Despite his humility, he gave in to the demands of the crowd. Holk gasped as Mikulak propelled himself into an effortless handstand.
Still upside-down, he paced the rows as his classmates reassured their teacher that this was perfectly safe and normal behavior.
Mikulak finished his introduction with a couple of backflips, and his name became one that Holk and her students would never forget.
Seven NCAA titles and four national championships later, the Newport Beach gymnast has the opportunity to bring home a gold medal from Rio and spread his joy for gymnastics worldwide.
“People say I bring a ‘California Cool’ to the gym, which I translate as my understanding of how to make the most out of those days on the beach and ingraining that happiness into my lifestyle,” Mikulak said.
His parents, both former gymnasts, raised Mikulak with an early appreciation for their sport, placing him in a toddler gymnastics class at age 2. However, it was not until he watched American gymnast Paul Hamm win a gold medal in the 2004 Olympic All Around competition that he developed his goal of becoming an Olympic gold medalist.
“I was able to see his dream come true, and I realized that what he accomplished was exactly what I wanted to do,” Mikulak said.
His friends and teachers at Corona del Mar High School encouraged Mikulak to accomplish his Olympic dream in 2012, and again in 2016. He credits them as his biggest supporters who continue to push and inspire him to be his best.
“I am so excited to be watching Sam compete for the second time,” said Mikulak’s eighth grade History teacher, Shauna Triggs. “The last time I saw him as a Sea King, he said his goal was 2016. I said 2012 could be a possibility, and it was.”
During his senior year of high school, Mikulak bonded with his school community when he participated in Hurley Walk the Walk, a creative competition that involved an elaborate fashion runway performance.
Mikulak’s gymnastics skills stole the show, and he brought home the victory to CdM.
“I’ll never forget winning Hurley Walk the Walk,” Mikulak said. “It was one of those experiences that made us friends for life, and it meant so much for me to support all the people who had always supported me.”
Mikulak continues to be a supportive teammate in Rio as he leads Team USA into the finals. Rather than taking time to relax in between events, he is known for cheering on his teammates and spreading his positivity throughout the gym.
“The dynamic personality that the world is now seeing is the same personality that Sam displayed in high school,” Holk said. “He’s kind, supportive of his peers, and respectful. I feel honored to know him and to be able to cheer for him at the Olympics. Sam deserves all the success because he’s a hard worker and an overall exceptional person, not to mention a world-class gymnast.”
After the Olympics, Mikulak plans to continue his support for fellow gymnasts by opening a gym in Southern California.
“I want to inspire kids to give gymnastics a try and give them the best opportunity for success,” Mikulak said. “Being a student at CdM and growing up in the area that I did opened a lot of doors and opportunities for me, and the most important thing to do is to give back and never take it for granted.”
“I thrive because I appreciate all the blessings I have in life, and now I can take that same appreciation and channel it into my sport,” Mikulak said. “Love what you do, and seize every day.”