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Samantha Peszek: Finding her voice

An accomplished gymnast uses her experiences to shape her future

Samantha “Sam” Peszek is used to the spotlight.

Performing intricate gymnastics routines in front of large crowds is nothing new for the former NCAA champion and 2008 Olympic team silver medalist. Now she draws upon her past accomplishments to succeed in her career as a motivational speaker and broadcaster for the Pac-12 Networks and NBC.

Biography

Samantha “Sam” Peszek

Hometown: Indianapolis

Current city: Los Angeles

School: Bachelor’s degree in communications studies, University of California, Los Angeles, 2015

Sport: Women’s gymnastics

Current job: Motivational speaker, broadcaster, co-founder of The Gympire

Fun fact: While hiking in the Andes Mountains in Peru, Peszek did a handstand on the cliffs of Machu Picchu — ruins of the Inca civilization.

In 2015, Peszek graduated cum laude from the University of California, Los Angeles, with a bachelor’s degree in communication studies. At UCLA, she was a three-time NCAA gymnastics champion, earning the all-around title in 2015 and balance beam titles in 2011 and 2015.

To Peszek, it was “a blessing and a curse” to have gone to the Olympics. As someone who always needs to be the best at something, after the Olympics Peszek put a lot of pressure on herself to figure out what she would do in life and how to be the best at it. 

“What I’m still figuring out now is that I don’t have gymnastics anymore, and I’m comfortable with that identity being my past life, so to speak,” she said. “Now, can I be just as successful in something else? That’s the pressure I put on myself that makes me want to explore my other passions.”

A love for sports runs in the family for Peszek, whose mother, Luan — a former University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign gymnast — is vice president of program development for USA Gymnastics. Her father, Ed, a real estate and finance administrator in the health care industry, competed in wrestling and club hockey at Illinois. Her sister, Jessie, competes for the Western Michigan University gymnastics team.

For Sam, that love for sports comes with a desire to lead.

Her experience at the NCAA Student-Athlete Leadership Forum, combined with taking an independent study course on leadership at UCLA, piqued her interest in the subject. Specifically, for the course, Peszek interviewed successful female business leaders in Los Angeles from a variety of industries. Inspired by these women and their stories, Peszek uses these lessons, and her own, as a motivational speaker.

“I realized I not only wanted to be my best self, but also help other people be the best they could be,” said the 24-year-old Peszek, who won the Bruin Leadership Award at UCLA in 2014. “Everything I learned in college athletics offers a direct parallel to the workforce and specifically leaders in business.”

Universities, elementary schools, associations and professional clubs have heard Peszek’s message, which she tailors to each audience.

During speeches, Peszek weaves in stories of her own experiences and struggles throughout her athletic career. For instance, at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, Peszek and her U.S. teammates won the team silver medal. She was expected to compete in all four events in the qualifying round but was injured during practice and competed only on the uneven bars.

Resiliency and contributing to the team’s success in unexpected ways can make a difference in gymnastics as well as the workforce.

“Understanding different personality types can make your team the best it can be,” Peszek said.

After devoting 21 years to her sport, Peszek said she has no regrets moving on to the next phase of her life. 

At UCLA, she got a head start on her broadcasting career. For three seasons, Peszek hosted webisodes of “Bruin Banter,” interviewing teammates and giving the public a behind-the-scenes look at life as a Bruin. Now she lends expert analysis to Pac-12 gymnastics telecasts, and, occasionally, to USA Gymnastics. It’s a role Peszek enjoys after being on the other side of the microphone for so many years.

Peszek’s dream is to host a sports talk show that sheds light on the lifestyles of athletes and focuses on either all sports or football. “I like telling stories, so if I can tell stories and inspire people (at the same time), that’s the dream,” she said.

Peszek is also co-founder of a new business, The Gympire, with fellow Olympic gymnast Alicia Sacramone. Using gymnastics as an inspiration for healthy lifestyles, The Gympire is currently a social platform with plans underway to develop it further.

 “I worked hard every day and I pushed myself to be the best I could be,” Peszek said. “I went to the Olympics, which was awesome, and then got to enjoy college athletics and become an NCAA champion, as well. For me to have experienced two very different but amazing options in my sport, I feel very fortunate and blessed I could do that.”