KENTWOOD, Mich. (WOOD) — A local leotard maker is asking the community for prayers as Olympics gymnastic champion Mary Lou Retton continues to fight pneumonia.
Retton, who won the Olympic all-around title in 1984 — the first American female to do so — is battling a rare form of pneumonia in the ICU, the Associated Press reports.
Her daughter in an Instagram post shared that her mother is making “remarkable” progress.
“Her fighting spirit is truly shining!” McKenna Lane Kelley wrote.
Jill Fox, the owner of Foxy’s Leotards on Paris Avenue near 44th Street, got to know Mary Lou Retton and one of her other daughters, Emma Jean Kelley, while working with them on their leotard collection.
Fox started gymnastics herself the same year Retton won the all-around title. Her mom sewed her and her sister’s leotards and soon started the leotard business in the family’s living room. They now have a website and ship their leotards to 300 stores.
“Me and my mom have always worked together. We’re a mother-daughter business, a family business,” Fox said. “That was a huge reason I was drawn to Mary Lou and her daughter because our collection is with her daughter as well, it’s a mother-daughter team, so it’s nice to keep that all in the family.”
Fox worked with the two of them to design the leotards in June and July. She said Retton and her daughter are very down-to-earth people.
“The instant I met them, it was hard not to feel close to them because they are just so humble and kind and just real. I felt like I was hanging out with my sister or friends, like from the get go, they make you feel that comfortable. They are very sweet, very humble,” she said. “I just feel so honored to even be able to do what we have done. … She’s been my idol since I started gymnastics too in the ’80s. So it’s surreal, it’s a dream come true for sure.”
Fox added Retton is an American icon who “paved the path for all of us gymnasts, even today.”
She said they had a photo shoot with the leotards in August, before the collection launched on Sept. 1. There was an issue with getting some of the leotards to Arkansas, where the photoshoot took place, Fox said, and Retton offered to change her flight.
“She was so sweet, she was going to rearrange her life because of my mistake. So of course you want a teammate like that on your side,” she said.
When the mailman came by without the package, Fox said Retton and her daughter tracked the package down to a different mailman’s truck.
They called Fox and told her to meet them at the theater where they were doing the shoot, with just 20 minutes to spare.
“As we’re walking back up the steps to go back to our car, I was like, ‘Mary Lou, do you believe we pulled this off? I can’t, I just I can’t believe it,'” Fox said. “Her response was, ‘We’re elite gymnasts. We can make anything happen.'”
Fox said growing up a gymnast instills “so much of that willpower to get things done, self-discipline.”
“I’m so grateful for my gymnastics training,” she said. “… I don’t know if I could have gotten through a lot of what I have, if I didn’t have that background.”
When she heard Retton was battling pneumonia, Fox said she “just wept for her.”
Fox said there’s power and strength in the symbolism found in the leotard collection.
The collection includes two stars and stripes leotards, meant to be worn with a friend or teammate to represent the flag, and a newsprint leotard depicting Mary Lou Retton.
“The newsprint leotard is a collage of all the memories, all the nostalgic-ness that Mary Lou brings to the sport and it’s got her signature on the hip,” Fox said.
The fourth is a pink and black leotard that depicts hands in prayer and the words “be the light.”
“This ‘be the light’ (leotard) really represents her daughter Emma and finding her faith,” she said. “What’s just amazing to me is how symbolic this leotard is in all of this. There’s prayer hands on it, we’re asking the world to lift her up in prayers. And it just, the power of that to me is just really beautiful, it’s really special and obviously there is power in that.”