When Aimee Walker-Pond was 7, her cousins were in gymnastics classes, and she wanted to do gymnastics too. But there is a vital difference between Walker-Pond and her cousins: She is deaf and blind in one eye.
Walker-Pond didn’t let that stop her, and she excelled from the beginning, training with world-renowned coaches and competing with acclaimed teams, including UCLA and Brigham Young University.
“Aimee’s not deaf; she just can’t hear,” said Valorie Kondos Field, UCLA’s head women’s gymnastics coach, in an interview with Adam Kempler, author of “No Excuses: The Story of Elite Gymnast Aimee Walker-Pond. “Why would she need two eyes when she has one? She has no excuses.”
When Walker-Pond was about 9 months old, her parents learned that she was deaf.
Doctors told the Walkers that they would probably never be able to teach their daughter to sign because Walker-Pond’s brain could not connect images with ideas.
Later, an eye doctor found that Walker-Pond had coloboma, a disease caused by a hole in one of the central parts of the eye. The central retina tissue had been damaged due to complications during birth, and she was blind in her right eye.
Devastated, the Walkers consulted another eye doctor for a second opinion on Walker-Pond’s coloboma condition. The second doctor came to the same conclusion, but instead of sharing the bleak outlook of all the doctors the Walkers had consulted up to that point, he was amazed.
“In 85 percent of these cases, the problem is bilateral meaning both eyes. And she only has it in one,” Patsy Walker, Walker-Pond’s mother, recalls the doctor saying. “Can you believe it? She has one good eye.”
After that, the Walkers decided to change the way they looked at their daughter’s condition.
With her disabilities, Walker-Pond’s life would never be easy, but as she grew up, her determination in the face of trials would serve as an inspiration for people all over the world.
“Attitude is everything, and that’s part of the challenge,” Walker-Pond said in a phone interview with the Deseret News, interpreted and translated by her mother. “Focusing on the things that we can learn from the challenges, rather than the problems that we’re going through. Realizing, ‘Wait a minute, it’s not the end of the world. We’re going to get through this. Not sure how or when yet, but we will learn from it and grow from it.’ It’s so important to keep that attitude positive and strong.”
Walker-Pond eventually learned sign language, something the doctors said she would never do. The miracles didn’t end there, however.
As Walker-Pond grew up, she continued to excel in her gymnastics career, quickly developing dreams to compete in the Olympics.
When she was 15, Walker-Pond was approached by an internationally elite coach and asked to participate in the first Nellie Kim Cup, an invitational held in Russia. Walker-Pond was the only non-elite gymnast invited to compete.
Walker-Pond says the Russia competition is her favorite memory in her gymnastics career. While there, she learned that had she been born with her condition in Russia, she would have been sent to confinement in an institution.
“I was so grateful for that opportunity to go there and to have the people there see me and realize that I would be in an institution if I lived in their country,” Walker-Pond said. “And there I was competing with them. This was the most thrilling experience because I know in my heart it helped open up their hearts and their minds to ... the children and people there that they discount because they have some kind of disability.”
When Walker-Pond graduated from high school, she signed at UCLA, the No. 1 women’s gymnastics team in the country. After competing with UCLA for two years, Walker-Pond transferred to BYU and joined the university’s women’s gymnastics team.
With her sights still set on the Olympics, Walker-Pond continued to push herself. In 2006, after persevering through countless injuries, she injured her shoulder. The doctor told her that there would be no recovery from this, and Walker-Pond was forced to accept that fact that her time competing in gymnastics was over.
As hard as retirement was, Walker-Pond found joy in committing herself to her studies. She graduated from BYU with a bachelor’s degree in recreation management and youth leadership.
After hearing Walker-Pond tell her story at a conference, Kempler knew it was a story that would inspire readers.
Over the course of 13 years and drawing from more than 80 interviews, Kempler wrote “No Excuses: The Story of Elite Gymnast Aimee Walker-Pond.”
“It was a wonderful experience because (Walker-Pond) is so positive and so full of faith,” Kempler said. “Most people aren’t as positive in challenges as Walker-Pond is, and most people don’t have as much faith as she does. It’s very much unlike talking to most young women.”
Walker-Pond now lives in Utah with her husband, Derek Pond, and their four children. She and her husband own a gym, and Walker-Pond continues to teach children to love gymnastics just as she does. She and her family are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and she teaches nursery with her husband in their ward.
“We read all about miracles happening in the Bible, but if each person looked at their own life, they would find amazing miracles that happen every single day,” Walker-Pond said. “If we have the desire to see those miracles, through God’s help and a positive attitude, having constant faith, those miracles will happen.”
For more information about “No Excuses,” and to view pictures and video clips, visit impact-publishing.com.