You might remember McKayla Maroney as the gymnast whose Olympian disappointment spawned the “unimpressed” meme a couple of years ago. Her perfectly frustrated face was deeply relatable – but there’s so much more to Maroney than just a disgruntled look. Her tale of thwarted success, and what happened to her afterwards, is truly captivating.
California girl McKayla Maroney was just 16 years old when she competed in the 2012 London Olympics. In other words, she was representing her country at an international level before she could even legally drink.
And like any Olympian gearing up for the global sporting event, Maroney trained intensively for London 2012. Unfortunately, all of her hard work flared up an old injury – a fracture in her right big toe that hadn’t healed entirely. And that meant that during her amazing vault routines, Maroney was actually in considerable pain. But she persevered. “Bad things happen, you just have to make the best of it,” she told NBC at the time.
And so Maroney powered through the pain like a true Olympian and helped nab her team a score of 16.233 in the vault final. As a result, the girls finished in first place with a gold medal. And, despite her injury, Maroney also managed to achieve the highest score in the competition so far.
After that triumph, then, the teen appeared to be a shoo-in to win gold in the vault final. But, alas, it wasn’t to be. Maroney stumbled during her second vault and fell, and this one small slip meant that the gold medal was gone from her reach. She achieved a silver medal instead, while Sandra Izbasa of Romania took first place.
On the medal stand, Maroney barely looked at her victorious rival. Instead, her face crumpled into the very picture of disappointment: lowered eyes, pursed lips, mouth twitched to the side in frustration. Luckily for the internet, however, several photographers were on hand to capture the expression perfectly.
And as so often happens when public figures have an unguarded moment caught on film, the photograph quickly became a sensation on the web. In fact, just a couple of days after the vault event, the Tumblr blog “McKayla Is Not Impressed” opened to document all the ingenious creations that the picture had spawned.
It would be easy to assume that Maroney wasn’t, er, impressed with the meme. It was a reminder of what was probably one of the most disappointing days of her life, after all. That wasn’t quite the case, however: Maroney actually liked it. “I think it’s really funny,” she told journalists at a press event a few months later.
And when Maroney and the rest of the U.S. gymnastic team visited the White House in November 2012, she discovered that none other than President Barack Obama was a fan of both her and the meme. In fact, they both got into the Maroney spirit for a photo to mimic the famous expression.
With so much coverage about the meme, it’s easy to forget what Maroney actually achieved, though. She may have “only” picked up a silver medal for the individual vault final, but her team all went home with gold. Plus, she had established herself as one of the best gymnasts in the world.
After the 2012 Olympics, then, Maroney continued to compete in gymnastics; in 2013, moreover, she became the first American woman to take to the vault to defend a world title. Plus, she did so with two screws in her left tibia: unfortunately, she had picked up another injury during an off-balanced dismount.
It’s a sad but true fact that gymnastics isn’t a life-long career. In fact, injuries like the ones Maroney picked up can cut a person’s time in the sport short at a very young age. And it’s also the case that the best gymnastic stars compete while still teenagers, because with age comes the physical changes that often throw off a gymnast’s game.
So no matter how good at gymnastics you are as a 16-year-old – even if you’re McKayla Maroney – you’ve got to have something else in your life to fall back on. And luckily, Maroney did: acting. Between 2012 and the end of 2013, then, she appeared in two TV shows, Hart of Dixie and Bones.
And although further injuries eventually prevented her from returning to competitive gymnastics, she continued to remain in the public eye. She threw the ceremonial first ball at a Chicago White Sox baseball game, for example, and did so with some super stylish gymnastic moves.
Maloney grew increasingly popular on social media, too. And although she advertises herself on Instagram as “that one gymnast girl who fell at the Olympics,” she is very clearly a lot more than that.
In 2015, moreover, Maroney revealed just how hard she’d struggled to achieve all that she had. On her YouTube channel, she explained that she had suffered from adrenal fatigue – which causes depression and anxiety – during her career.
“Being happy and healthy are the most important things in your whole entire life. If you are not happy, it just ruins everything else, you don’t even wanna be alive,” she said. And it was clear then that she had been through some pretty tough times.
On February 24, 2016, moreover, Maroney officially announced her retirement from competitive gymnastics. That wasn’t surprising, but it was a little surprising how open she was about her health issues and the pressure she had faced. “I was taught that resting was lazy, that resting was just you not trying hard enough,” she said in a tell-all video.
She continued, “I came into the gym after 2013 and I felt like my whole body was broken, it was just shattering.” It sounded very much like this former gymnast was ready to begin a new chapter in her life. And indeed the “girl who fell at the Olympics” later revealed that she was going to launch a music career.
So although she’s still cheering fellow gymnasts on and providing analysis at the Rio Olympics, Maroney is comfortable living her life outside the arena. Her musical debut, meanwhile, is due for release September 2016. What’s more, she has other acting jobs lined up, too. And so while she may be famous partly for being Not Impressed, Maroney herself is very impressive.