Olympics-Bound Ashton Locklear: “Indian Country is in My Heart!”

Women's Gymnastics Champion Ashton Locklear is Rio bound! She says "Indian Country is in my heart!"

Ashton Locklear, Lumbee, is going to the Summer Olympics in Rio.

The 18-year-old gymnast, holder of seven national and world titles in uneven bars, placed second in that event and 13th in balance beam in the U.S. Olympic Trials July 8-10 in San Jose to earn a spot as one of three alternates on the U.S. Olympic team. The Games begin Aug. 5 in Rio de Janeiro.

See Related: Good Luck Ashton Locklear! Lumbee Olympic Gymnastics Hopeful

Locklear is training in Texas with national women’s team coordinator Martha Karolyi; should Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Laurie Hernandez, Madison Kocian or Aly Raisman be unable to compete, Locklear could find herself representing the United States – and Indian Country – on the floor.

She would be the first Native American athlete to compete in gymnastics in an Olympics.

"I am carrying Indian Country in my heart to Rio!," Locklear said through family spokeswoman Jackie Jacobs, Lumbee.

Jacobs added, "Ashton and her parents want to thank everyone in Indian Country for the amazing support you have shown her. Ashton has been in competition season since the first of the year and was not fully aware of all the well wishes and prayers being sent her way. She wants everyone to know she hears you and it has helped lift her up moving forward after being selected as an alternate for Team USA."

For Locklear, the road to Rio has been paved with challenges that have tested her mentally and physically. She suffered a stress fracture in her back in 2013, which forced her to stop competing on the floor exercise and vault. She returned to competition in 2014, winning gold in uneven bars at the U.S. Classic, U.S. Championships and Pan American Championships. Then, in early 2015, she sustained a shoulder injury; following surgery and physical therapy, she finished second in uneven bars at the U.S. Championships. She contributed to her team’s four gold-medal finishes in international competition those two years.

In 2016, she won gold in uneven bars in the City of Jesolo Trophy competition and the Pacific Rim Championships, the U.S. Classic and U.S. Championships. In her other event, balance beam, she has twice finished fourth in six competitions; she fell from the beam in the Olympic trials, likely costing her a spot on the first team.

Ashton shook it off and will be on the sidelines in Rio, at the ready.

“I'm so proud of Ashton,” Carrie said. “Surprisingly, Ashton has never needed encouragement to keep going at any time, even when she has been injured. She has always been self-motivated. After her fractured back, I thought it was time to give it up, but she insisted she was never giving up. Our greatest challenge is providing her with the things she needs to be successful due to our financial constraints.”

Dad Terry, mom Carrie, and sister Angelia are key members of Team Locklear. In an earlier interview, Ashton said her family’s support and sacrifice have made it possible for her to pursue her goals as an athlete. Her mother spoke to that.

Ashton Locklear would be the first Native American athlete to compete in gymnastics in an Olympics.

“Our whole family has always been involved in her gymnastics to some degree,” Carrie said. “And come vacation time, our vacations have always been traveling to her meets. In order for her to train, we live separately from her Dad during the week and travel home on weekends to see him, if she's not competing. We stay with a family for free during the week in exchange for me transporting their daughter to Ashton's gym, where she also trains.

“Ashton and I have been doing that for eight years, so we live out of suitcases most of the time. I volunteer at Ashton's gym during the week to offset the cost of her training.”

Despite the intense travel, training and competition schedule, the Lumbee Tribe is never far from Locklear’s heart and mind.

“We rarely have had time to participate in any events outside of gymnastics in recent years,” Carrie said. “But this year, we actually were able to attend the Lumbee Pow Wow in Pembroke, which was very enjoyable … Her heritage is a great inspiration to her. She has dreamed of being the first Native American gymnast to compete in the Olympics.”

If she gets that chance, she’ll have the Lumbee nation and Indian Country behind her.

“The support from NDN country was unbelievable,” Jacobs wrote in an email after the U.S. Olympic trials. “We want to acknowledge that support and say thank you to NDN country. The other gymnasts had family support and local hometown support and support from gymnastics fans who follow the sport and Ashton had that too, but she also had support from every corner of the United States and it was overwhelming to see. NDN country support was unbelievable and our hearts were full.”

Jackie Jacobs, Lumbee, has created a crowd-funding web page to help fund the costs for Ashton Locklear’s family to attend the 2016 Olympics in Rio. Go to https://www.generosity.com/sports-fundraising/help-ashton-s-parents-get-to-the-olympics-in-rio--2.