Why the U.S. women's gymnastics team is truly America at its finest.
America is in the midst of some tough conversations. Strong opinions and uncomfortable truths about race, politics, and social justice can make it seem like we're more divided than ever.
There's an unlikely place where we can look forward with hope, however:
The 2016 U.S. women's gymnastics team.
There are big reasons we should celebrate the diverse group of female gymnasts representing the U.S. at the Olympics in Rio this year.
Sure, on the surface, gymnastics doesn't have much to do with those bigger, important conversations currently unfolding across Facebook and dining room tables.
But there's probably never been a better time for an Olympic squad to remind us that yes — we should all be on the same team, regardless of our background or skin color.
The five gymnasts representing the USA in the Olympics are fabulous, badass, and incredibly talented:
1. Chances are you've heard of the awesomeness that is Gabby Douglas.
"I do want to be sharper," Douglas explained. That may be a tough goal to reach, seeing as she dominated the sport in 2012, becoming the first black gymnast to win an individual Olympic gold.
"When I look at my performances, I’m like, ‘Oo, you’re lagging behind, Gabs.’ The one thing I tell myself is to not get lazy. Nothing is handed to you; you always have to fight for yourself."
2. Laurie Hernandez, the first U.S.-born Latina to join the team since 1984, is a standout at just 16 years old.
"Wow — that's all I can really say," Hernandez said of joining a team with such stellar athletes. Her passionate routines landed her the nickname "human emoji."
"I didn’t realize how much mentally and physically older I got in the past four years, so looking back at this little girl watching the Olympics on her phone, I would never think I’d be here right now."
3. Simone Biles is a 19-year-old Texan who many consider to be among the greatest gymnasts of all time.
"I’m excited about being with the girls all the time because we all know what it’s like to go through this," said Biles, who has snagged a history-making 14 world championship medals (and is just all-around awesome). "We have each other to lean on, and I think that’s the best thing that could have happened."
4. Look out for Madison Kocian, who will be killin' it on the uneven bars.
"It’s just something so special that I will never forget her announcing my name," Kocian said of learning she was going to the Olympics. She won the uneven bars world title in 2015.
5. The team's veteran athlete, Aly Raisman, is a Jewish 22-year-old who's used to bringing home the gold, silver, and bronze.
"I think it just hasn’t really sunk in yet," Raisman said of landing a spot on the team again this year after competing in 2012 — an Olympics she finished as the team's most decorated gymnast.
One of the best things about the Olympics is that it brings our country together. That's something we need this year, especially.
So far, it's been a year filled with sweeping front-page headlines as well as complexities and tough questions about race relations.
Is there widespread systemic racism in law enforcement? Are we mischaracterizing our brave men and women in blue?
America, we've got some soul-searching to do. And one inspirational Olympic team certainly won't make these questions any easier to answer.