When Ashton Locklear returned from Rio last weekend, her life back in North Carolina picked up right where it left off.
“I got home Saturday afternoon, I got to go to my best friend’s birthday party and spend a little bit of time with her,” she says, “then I was back in the gym on Monday.”
But by the time I talked to her Thursday, the 18-year-old Hamlet resident – one of three alternates on the 2016 Olympic women’s gymnastics team – had had a chance to let it all soak in.
“Even though I wasn’t on the team – and I would have loved to have been on the team – it was still so much fun cheering them on,” Locklear told me by phone, as she rushed from practice at Everest Gymnastics Training Center in Huntersville to a physical therapy appointment. “One time when I was saying, ‘Go USA!,’ Simone (Biles, who won four medals at the Games) looked up at me and she threw up a heart. It was just really nice that they knew we were there cheering for them.”
To commemorate her trip and to provide a behind-the-scenes look at an athlete’s Rio experience, I asked Locklear to choose – and tell us the story behind – six of her favorite photos from Brazil.
Locklear’s caption: “Alternates staying positive in Rio!”
Where it was taken: Clube de Regatas do Flamengo, the Brazilian sports club based in Rio where the team participated in two-hour training sessions twice a day for two weeks.
The story behind the photo: “It was a really fun time being there in Rio and training in a different environment, but it was also pretty tough, because when we got to the gym, the equipment was really bad. It was really old, and it was really hard on our bodies. So I think the biggest thing for us three is we learned how to push through something like that, and I think it helped us grow – not just as an athlete, but as a person. You help each other, and we were there in the gym pushing each other every day.”
As for the socks? “Those are actually part of the national team apparel. We were really happy about those.”
Locklear’s caption: “Loved meeting the USA basketball team!”
Who’s in the photo: From left, 2016 Olympic men’s gymnastics team alternate Akash Modi; Skinner; DeAndre Jordan of the 2016 Olympic men’s basketball team (and the Los Angeles Clippers); Smith; Locklear; and 2016 Olympic men’s gymnastics team alternate Donnell Whittenburg.
Where it was taken: Clube de Regatas do Flamengo.
The story behind the photo: “We got to watch their whole practice, then towards the end of their practice we got to go on the floor. It was awesome. We also met Kevin Durant and ... I can’t remember all their names. I never really pay attention to basketball. But it was cool getting to know some of the things that they have to do, and they told us a bunch of stuff – they said that they were staying on a cruise ship while they were out there.”
As for that height difference? “Yeah, that’s probably the best part.”
Locklear’s caption: “Views with MyKayla!”
Who’s in the photo: Locklear and Skinner.
Where it was taken: At the base of Christ the Redeemer, overlooking the city of Rio from the top of Corcovado mountain in the Tijuca Forest National Park.
The story behind the photo: “MyKayla Skinner and I roomed together at a couple camps before and we roomed together at (2016 Olympic) trials, so we’re really close. ... To get to the statue you ride a train most of the way, and then you can walk stairs all the way up. There were a lot of steps. MyKayla and I were like, ‘We didn’t sign up for this!’ But it was cool. It was fun.”
As for those shirts? “People were noticing us because we had our Olympic Team stuff on, so we got asked to pose for lots of pictures.”
Locklear’s caption: “ALWAYS representing the greatest country in the world: USA!”
Who’s in the photo: Locklear (and a bunch of random tourists).
Where it was taken: Also at Christ the Redeemer.
The story behind the photo: Pretty simple: “Somebody was walking around with a flag and MyKayla and I were like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’d be such a cool picture!’ So we asked to use it in a picture.”
What’s most unique about all this, though: “We normally don’t get to sightsee when we go on international assignments. (Locklear has also competed in China, Italy and Canada.) It’s just training and recovery, and so there’s no time for sightseeing. And normally when you go to Italy for the competition, they have an extra sightseeing day ... but this year, when I went, they took that day out.”
Locklear’s caption: “Congratulating this extraordinary woman on her successful career! She made me the athlete I am today.”
Who’s in the photo: Locklear and Marta Karolyi, soon-to-be-retired head coach of the U.S. women’s gymnastics team.
Where it was taken: Rio Olympic Arena, on the night of the women’s individual all-around finals (at which Americans Simone Biles and Aly Raisman finished gold-silver).
The story behind the photo: “(Marta) was with the team the whole time training them, but that was the first time that I saw her while we were in Rio. ... She is an incredible woman. The first time I met her, I think I was 11. Ever since then, she’s been someone that I really look up to. She’s helped me so much. She’s helped me grow as an athlete. When I first was coached by her in 2014, after I made the Pan Am team, it was just amazing. She taught me what the word ‘confidence’ means.”
Locklear’s caption: “So much love in one picture. Family and LEGEND Marta Karolyi.”
Who’s in the photo: From left, her dad, Terry Locklear; Karolyi; her mom, Carrie Locklear; her 23-year-old sister, Angelia; and Locklear.
Where it was taken: The P&G Family Home, located halfway between Copacabana and Olympic Park in Rio de Janeiro; it’s basically a hangout spot for Team USA athletes and their families.
The story behind the photo: “That was actually the last day that my family was in Rio, right before we left. But that was the first picture we all took together. ... I’m just very thankful for my family and for her.”
And while she’s on a thank-you kick: “I definitely want to thank the whole state of North Carolina for being behind me this whole journey, and the whole native country (Locklear is a member of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina) ... without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today. And my coaches. Everyone has helped me so much.”
As for that backdrop? “It was just a cool glittery wall, so I was like, ‘Oh, let’s take the picture here!’ ”
See Locklear this fall
The N.C.-based gymnast will join Olympic team members on the road as a performer in the Kellogg’s Tour of Gymnastics Champions, which stops in Charlotte on Friday, Oct. 28.