Local Olympian Sam Mikulak talks the Rio games and why he loves Big Corona
U.S. Olympic gymnast Sam Mikulak never forgets his Southern California roots. Neither does anybody else. Mikulak, a 23-year-old Newport Beach native, is known as “Hollywood,” the surfer dude, the epitome of California cool. Credit his good nature, his laid-back sense of humor, even his yerba mate company.
The 2010 graduate of Corona del Mar High School is also known as a fierce competitor. That will come into play this month at the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, where Mikulak is widely seen as a strong all-around medal contender.
As a child, Mikulak started at SCATS Gymnastics in Huntington Beach. He got strong encouragement from two former standouts on the UC Berkeley gymnastics team: his mom, Tina, now an instructor, and dad, Stephen, now an orthopedic surgeon.
After high school Mikulak competed on the University of Michigan gymnastics team. As a 19-year-old he competed in the 2012 Olympic Games in London then decided to stay in college and helped Michigan win two NCAA Championships.
Coast caught up with Mikulak just before he made the Rio gymnastics team.
Coast: Southern California to Michigan must have been a shock to your system.
SM: When I committed to Michigan, people told me how cold and horrible it’d be. I expected a blizzard every day, so my expectations were a lot worse. But I ran out to the lake every time the sun was shining even if it wasn’t warm.
Coast: What’s your life been like in the year since you moved to the Olympic training center in Colorado Springs?
SM: It’s two-a-day workouts, four days a week. Then one a day for two other days. We start at 9 a.m. and I’m done at 7 p.m. There’s not much of a social life here. That allows you to commit to your sport so there are no regrets.
Coast: You’ve got an engaging presence on social media (@SamuelMikulak). Is that expected of athletes these days?
SM: I like being able to reach out to other people. It takes such a minimal time out of my day and it does a lot for them. I want to be motivational, inspiring. Everyone wants to be big in social media.
Coast: Last year you missed the World Championships after injuring your Achilles tendon. How’d you deal with that?
SM: Obviously, it’s upsetting. I think one of my better qualities is getting over things pretty fast. If I make a mistake, I don’t think about that. I just started working on my recovery. I was committed to getting healthy. I feel like I’m there.
Coast: You were a psychology major in college. Ever use what you learned in school in gymnastics?
SM: Gymnastics is so mental. I practice a lot of mindfulness. I meditate. I do some breathing techniques to lower the stress in my life. You need to make sure gymnastics doesn’t become an obsession, that it’s a passion. I’ve started reading a lot more for fun. I’m writing fiction. I like to go out to the mountains, take some yerba mate and look at the sun and either read or write.
Coast: Speaking of yerba mate (a naturally caffeinated herbal tea), how much are you doing with MatéBros, the business that you and your partners run?
SM: When we started, I did a lot more on the business, networking side. I told my partners I need to focus on gymnastics. But I still do a lot on social media, the marketing side. I use MatéBros as sort of an outlet to communicate with fans. It’s not just a drink; I want to build a community around it. I drink it every single day before harder practices. Maté is my second passion in life.
Coast: Do you have anxiety dreams about the Games?
SM: I don’t have nightmares. I just visualize a lot. Sometimes I just get that feeling of what it’d be like to stand on the medal podium. I want to process all these thoughts, and I want to be comfortable with them. The more you put yourself there, the easier it is to take control once you’re there in a moment.
Coast: What do you do when you come home to OC?
SM: I usually go to Big Corona, go to the beach, play volleyball, body surf, paddleboard, ride around the harbor on Duffy boats. I don’t get to go home enough, so the little time I do, I like to spend it with the people I love and care about most.