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Olympic gymnasts visit GGC campus

U.S. Olympian McKayla Maroney signs autographs for Georgia Gwinnett College students during her visit to the campus on Tuesday morning.

U.S. Olympian McKayla Maroney signs autographs for Georgia Gwinnett College students during her visit to the campus on Tuesday morning.


U.S. Olympian Jonathan Horton, second from left, speaks with students and signs autographs during his visit to the Georgia Gwinnett College campus on Tuesday morning.

LAWRENCEVILLE — They come from different backgrounds and they're 10 years apart in age. But McKayla Maroney and Jonathan Horton share the same drive and determination to be Olympians.

Maroney and Horton were featured guests on the campus of Georgia Gwinnett College Tuesday morning as the Olympic duo spoke to a gathering of students, faculty and staff in Cisco Auditorium.

Maroney and Horton are traveling around the country with the Kellogg's Tour of Gymnastics Champions 2012, which will make a stop on Saturday night at the Arena at the Gwinnett Center.

"It was a dream come true to compete in London," Maroney said. "Gymnastics is something I've always loved from the beginning and it's taught me a lot about how to compete. Even when things are tough, don't ever doubt yourself and keep believing."

Saturday's 7:30 p.m. show is part of a 37-city tour, which began in early September and runs through mid-November, featuring many of the Olympic gymnasts that grabbed the attention of the nation this past summer.

While Maroney and Horton were on the GGC campus Tuesday, they will head to Louisville, Ky., for a show Thursday night and a show in Charlotte on Friday night before heading back to Gwinnett to perform on Saturday.

Maroney, who attended Tuesday's session with a boot on her right foot and a full-length brace on left leg as a result of injuries, calls Long Beach, Calif., home.

She is known around the world as an Olympic champion who was on the 2012 women's gymnastics championship team that took the gold medal. Maroney also captured silver in the individual vault in the 2012 Summer Games.

She did all that despite a broken toe she suffered two days after the team arrived in London.

Despite the injuries, which also included a concussion and nasal fracture during warm-ups at the 2012 Visa Championships a week before the Olympic Trials, Maroney is driven to succeed and is mature beyond her youthful age of 16 (she turns 17 on Dec. 9).

Maroney plans to train and compete for a chance to make the Olympic team for the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

But that doesn't mean she only enjoys gymnastics, even though she has been at her favorite sport since she was just two-years-old.

Maroney likes tennis, track and field and ice skating even though most of her life now is nothing but gymnastics and home school.

"A typical day for me is getting up at 7, having breakfast and doing school work until around noon," said Maroney, who attended public high school as a freshman before moving to home school. "Then I'll have lunch before heading to train from 1 until around 7:30 or . Then it's home for dinner and homework. That happens five days a week with a shorter day on Saturday and off on Sunday."

She also recently had a role as Tonya in The CW's "Hart of Dixie" television show and hopes for more opportunities to act in the future.

For Horton, most of his gymnastics career is in the rearview mirror, but that doesn't mean he's done competing.

Horton, who will turn 27 on New Year's Eve, plans to train and compete for a spot on the 2016 men's U.S. gymnastics team in Rio despite the fact that he will be 30-years-old when the games are held.

While Maroney is up and coming in the sport of gymnastics, Horton has a long history of success that includes two trips to the Olympics in 2008 in Beijing, China, and 2012 in London.

Horton was on the men's team that took the bronze medal in Beijing and finished fifth in London, which is something that still drives Horton to continue on and strive for one more trip to the Olympics.

Horton also finished sixth overall in the individual high bar competition in London.

"Maybe I should get a USA tattoo , because it makes me feel good to represent our country," Horton said. "Even when I stop competing, I would like to stay involved and give back to the sport. It may be in coaching or even broadcasting, but I want to remain in the sport. But for now, I want to stay competitive and aim for 2016."

Horton, a native of Houston, Texas, had a great career at the University of Oklahoma where he set school records with six individual titles and 18 All-America honors.

He was also on three NCAA team champions in 2005, '06 and '08 and claimed the NCAA all-around individual title in '06.

But he still has that fire burning inside of him to compete on the international stage one more time and stand on the podium in Rio as a proud member of the United States men's gymnastics team.

He learned to accept that team concept when he first got to Oklahoma, which has stayed with him as he has moved into international competition as a member of the U.S. team.

"I started taking gymnastics seriously when I about 11-years-old," said Horton. "But it was at the University of Oklahoma that I realized that team came first and my teammates were my brothers. I also realized that failure can fuel success. It is a driving, motivating force that makes you realize it may not work right away, but you have to keep trying."