Ever since she could walk, Olympian Nicole Sladkov remembers being with her mother, learning rhythmic gymnastics.
“She was coaching after I was born and she would bring me to the gym and I would just kind of sit on the side and watch the bigger girls or the older girls do their routines and like play with their ribbons and what not,” Sladkov, who is from Vernon Hills, told NBC Chicago. “But then she did open her own club and we started working with each other.”
The pair quickly developed a strategy for being mother-daughter and coach-pupil.
“We were both really good at keeping gymnastics in the gym and family at home or outside the gym,” Sladkov said. “And she knew how to push me, mom, I knew how to work with her. Of course, we had our moments every now and then.”
But as soon as she finished a routine, there was always one mother-daughter moment the pair never avoided.
“The one thing I always remember is every time I walked off the carpet after a routine she just said always, you know, ‘I’m so proud of you,'” Sladkov said. “No matter how good or how bad the routine was, every single time I walked off the carpet she would tell me how proud she was.”
With her mother by her side, Sladkov can remember the moment she first dreamed of becoming an Olympian in her sport.
“I think the moment I realized I wanted to be part of the Olympic dream was the first time I actually watched the Olympics with my parents and I was watching the girls compete and I was like, ‘One day I want to do this,'” she said. “Like, ‘I want it to be me up there performing and showing and showing all my hard work and performing for my country.'”
From that moment on, she worked toward that goal.
Now, though her family won’t be physically by her side, she’s headed to Tokyo with her other family: her team.
“We’re like sisters,” Sladkov said of the other rhythmic gymnasts from the North Shore Rhythmic Gymnastics Center in Prospect Heights. “I mean we’re family. We’ve been together for quite some time.”
Sladkov said that inseparable bond not only helps them off the carpet, but on.
“There’s five of us on the carpet and we’re tossing to each other, communicating with each other, in sync with each other,” she said. “I would say the hardest part about group is it’s catching that moment when we’re all together, in sync, like, not just moving but like we have the same breath together, we have the same energy.”
“I don’t think there’s any other team in, like, in the sport that has the kind of bond that we have,” she said.
Now, whether she’s on the carpet performing as a gymnast or off the carpet being a friend or daughter or training, Sladkov will forever be one thing: an Olympian.