Samuel Mikulak started gymnastics at the mere age of two. With both his parents being former members of the Berkley gymnastics team, you could say it’s in his blood. After 17 years of hard work and dedication (which led him to the University of Michigan), he achieved his lifelong dream: he was going to the Summer 2012 Olympic games. This made him the first member of the U-M gymnastics team to go to the Olympics. Mikulak described that day as a moment he’ll remember for the rest of his life (with good reason!). What led to this fateful day, though? What was his life like now, returning to Ann Arbor with such high celeb status? I sat down with the Olympic cutie (sorry, though, ladies—he’s taken!) and found out.
HC: What made you choose to do gymnastics as opposed to other sports?
Sam Mikulak: Well, my parents actually wanted me to do baseball for a majority of my life, so they put me in that as well as soccer, gymnastics, hockey, and basketball. But they wanted me to make my own decision. As I had to put more time into certain sports, I just decided to drop the other sports, and it finally came down to baseball and gymnastics. I ended up dropping baseball because I didn’t really like the team aspect. I like controlling all the factors, because I’m really competitive, and in gymnastics I can do just that. Plus, I’m kind of a daredevil, so it just suited me better.
HC: Was it intimidating coming on the U-M gymnastics team as a freshman?
SM: I was intimidated, but the intimidation didn’t come fro the gymnastics part, because that’s something that’s always felt very natural. I actually progressed quite a bit because the equipment was so much better, the coaching staff was great, and the team was very beneficial. School wise, though, it was hard for me to transition from high school to college. There were a lot of times where I just had no idea what was going on in class, and I didn’t know how to handle it, but I figured it out!
HC: How did you feel when it was announced you’d made the cut—you were going to the 2012 Olympic games?
SM: It was pretty scary going up to it the night before, because I had injured myself. I kept wondering if I was going to make it and if I had done enough. Once they announced my name last, there was this huge wave of relief and then excitement. Walking out of the room, my whole family was waiting there like it was American Idol or something. I ran out, and everyone hugged me and was screaming. It was just one of those moments that I’ll always remember vividly for the rest of my life.
HC: What was your experience like at the Olympics?
SM: It seemed like a dream. You’d be sitting there next to Ryan Lochte, or Michael Phelps, or Serena Williams, and everyone’s getting ready for competition, but they’re all so normal at the same time. It was like, “Oh my god, I’m sitting here next to celebrities.” Everyone was just very friendly and down-to-earth. They were all ready to go out and perform, but they wanted to have a good balance and have fun too.
HC: How has your life changed here, at Michigan, since the Olympics?
SM: It’s definitely been significant. I used to be able to just blend in—no one ever knew me. And now, walking around, I always get, “Oh my god, that’s Sam Mikulak.” I’ll look around and introduce myself. A lot of people come up and want to get to know me, and I love it. Everyone here is so friendly. I’ve never had anyone negative come up to me and say anything bad. It definitely gets crazy at football games or out on the weekends—having to take pictures with everyone. It’s nothing absurd, though, and I love meeting new people, so I cherish it.
HC: What advice would you give to someone who hopes to someday go to the Olympics?
SM: I would say make sure you never give up. Many times it is difficult. But you need to dream big, because there were so many times I put limits on myself and exceeded those limits. You really have to find your passion. If it’s something you can see yourself doing every day, go for it.