By Cathy Harasta
The Texas Catholic
Dallas gymnast Madison Kocian’s friends from All Saints Catholic Church were with her in spirit not only during her performances that won a gold and a silver medal at the Rio Olympics, but also during the preceding 11 years of her journey to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Their Catholic faith united six families who nurtured Kocian’s gymnastics goals through her daunting injuries and comebacks on her way to winning three world championship medals before she reached Rio.
“Madison is fundamentally one of the nicest and most grounded people I know,” said Carolyn Carlson, who was Kocian’s Confirmation sponsor and the hostess of two Rio Olympics TV watch parties. “She talks about her faith and her family. I’ve been able to watch her live her faith. With her different injuries and surgeries, I think her faith has helped her persevere.”
Five families, including Carlson and her husband, Dan, met Kocian and her parents, Cindy and Thomas, and her brother, Ty—who is a junior at Jesuit College Preparatory School—when Ty started kindergarten at All Saints Catholic School. The families had sons the same age, all of whom played youth baseball together through grade school.
The Rio Games gave the families a chance to reminisce about their children and their parish, said Thomas, who with Cindy and Ty traveled to Rio to watch Kocian win team gold on Aug. 9 and the silver medal on the uneven bars on Aug. 14.
“The last 12 years have gone by so fast,” said Thomas, who coached Ty and the other families’ sons in baseball. “I had the feeling of, ‘Wow—Madison has been doing gymnastics for so long. It makes me think of what it has taken for her to get here.’ She has been on that rollercoaster where she has had injuries that have sidelined her. Prayer definitely has been part of her journey.”
Joining the parishioners at the Carlson home were All Saints pastor Father Tony Lackland and parochial vicar Father Alfonse Nazzaro.
They cheered vigorously every time the telecasts showed Kocian, 19, competing or supporting her teammates on what proved itself and is celebrated as history’s best women’s gymnastics team.
“How wonderful her humility is on this journey,” Father Lackland said. “It’s wonderful to see a young person at such a crossroads who actively mentions her faith.”
Kocian’s biography includes her mention that she loves visiting churches everywhere she travels.
Her father said that attending Masses celebrated in Portuguese was an Olympic highlight for the family in Rio.
“The Kocian family members are very faithful parishioners,” Father Nazzaro said. “Madison has created so much excitement and fellowship within the parish. It’s not every day that a parish has a gold medalist and world champion. Madison is not only a gymnastics gold medalist, but she is a gold-medalist in life, in how she conducts herself on the podium, in how she cheers on her teammates, and in how she is with her competitors.”
Among the approximately 40 people who gathered to watch Kocian’s Olympic competitions, friends of Ty’s shared some of the most touching memories of Kocian, while the dads told some of the funniest stories.
The fathers laughed when they recalled that Andy Beiriger once challenged Kocian to a walking-on-your-hands contest while the six families were vacationing together in the Texas Hill Country.
Kocian, who was nine or 10 at the time, won handily.
“Madison kept going and going and going on her hands,” Beiriger said. “I now can say that I’ve competed with an Olympic champion.”
His wife, Susan, and daughter, Abby, said that they never will forget many restaurant meals when Kocian would hang upside down on a patio railing while the families proceeded to eat dinner.
Hank Fogle, a junior at John Paul II High School in Plano, said that Kocian and her brother have remained close all through her years of training six hours a day in the gym. Kocian, who will head to a gymnastics scholarship at UCLA in September, trains at the World Olympic Gymnastics Academy in Plano.
“She always finds time to do something with Ty,” Fogle said. “They go to church together. They both love baseball and the Texas Rangers, which also helps their bond.”
He said that he and his friends admired Kocian’s work ethic.
“But we didn’t realize how really strong she was, and how impressive that was,” he said. “I feel like it’s taken a lot for her to get where she is, but it hasn’t changed her in any way.”
Connor Thomas, a junior at Jesuit, said that he enjoyed the chance to gather to cheer for Kocian.
“It’s a lot of fun to experience the whole Olympic thing together,” he said. “The whole country is on the same team. I can remember when Madison made the national junior team. I remember thinking, ‘Wow—that’s a really big deal.’ That’s when I knew that she had something really special going on.”
The party-goers got a special treat when Cindy Kocian called the Carlson home from Rio during the gymnastics competition.
“We’re seated up high, but that’s how I like it,” she said. “I get too nervous if I’m too close.”
Father Nazzaro said that “close” is a perfect description of the Kocian family.
“The family is very united,” he said. “They know what is and what is not important.”