Meet Wendy Hilliard, the Woman Who Opened Doors For Black Female Gymnasts
Gymnasts/Olympians Simone Biles and Gabby Douglas may be the leading faces of American gymnastics today, but one woman, a woman who helped paved the way for the likes of Biles and Douglas, remembers a time when this wasn’t always the case.
That woman is Wendy Hilliard.
Hilliard kicked down several barriers preventing black gymnasts from being seen when she became the first African-American rhythmic gymnast to make the U.S. national team, a feat that was not easily accomplished, and which was only the beginning of a long, hard road to diversifying the sport.
She recounted an occasion on which she missed out on the opportunity to participate in an international competition because of the color of her skin to Huffpost.
“One year they didn’t put me on the team for World Championships, and we were at the Olympic Training Center and we’re there for like six weeks,” she said. “I’m on the top team and they said that everybody was shocked. “The (coach) said ‘Oh Wendy, what are we going to do with you? You stand out too much.’ I was like ‘So you’re telling me I’m not on the team because I’m black and that’s what it means?’ So I had to fight it.”
A time span of 60 years (1932-1992) saw the absence of black women representing the country in gymnastics at the games. Hilliard says she is happy to now witness Douglas and Biles “making a difference” by showing little African American girls that they, too, can experience a rewarding career as a gymnast.
“Seeing someone do it on that high level makes a huge difference,” she said. “I didn’t have that, I just loved my sport, but I could tell after Gabby Douglas, the amount of people that wanted to come take gymnastics with me went through the roof.”
The former gymnast now focuses her attention on training upcoming athletes at the Wendy Hilliard Foundation located in Harlem, New York, which she founded in 1996 to make gymnastics programs easily accessible to those who can only afford them at a low cost, or can’t afford to pay for them at all.
Of this generous initiative, she says,
“I’ve had to find ways so that my kids, urban kids, even if you don’t have a lot of money [or] come from a challenging home you can still be a great gymnast.“
By: Danielle Dixon
Follow her on Twitter: @tooprettydani