When U.S. gymnast Jonathan Horton takes the floor in London in a few weeks in search of an Olympic medal, he’ll wear a piece of athletic tape around his ring finger in the place of his wedding band.
“That means so much to me as a mother-in-law – that symbol,” said Dayna DeProspero from her Alvord home.
The Houston gymnast and two-time Olympic medalist married DeProspero’s daughter shortly after the Beijing games in 2008. Now, two of his biggest fans, DeProspero and her fiance, Chuck Nichols, reside in Alvord where they plan to cheer Horton and Team USA on to gold.
“He got a team bronze in Beijing, but this team is much better,” DeProspero predicted.
Her daughter met Horton on her recruiting visit to the University of Oklahoma, where he was already a champion. Haley was following in her mother’s footsteps attending OU. She became a national finalist and was named the school’s most valuable gymnast her senior year in 2009.
She and Horton married later that year.
“He flew in from Beijing, and we went out straight wedding shopping,” DeProspero recalled. “An elderly lady recognized him from watching on TV. and he pulls out his silver medal from the high bar and shows it to her.”
Haley is continuing her education in Houston where her husband trains full time.
“She was torn about studying medicine at OU or coming back to Houston,” Deprospero said.
DeProspero said the newlyweds have been busy between medical school and Horton’s training. They are also working to buy a house.
“There’s never a dull moment or still moment,” DeProspero said.
Training for a world-class athlete like Horton is a full-time job. He works out in the morning and evening.
“It’s every day for two or three hours in the morning and evening,” Nichols said. “He also has a diet that he doesn’t deviate from.”
DeProspero said her family’s background in the sport helps Haley be understanding of the commitment it takes to compete on the world stage. DeProspero runs the University of Gymnastics in Plano and Sherman.
“It’s not just a commitment for the athlete but also the family,” DeProspero said. “Haley understands that.”
Nichols and DeProspero, who plan to marry after the Olympics, made the trip to San Jose last week to watch Horton compete in the U.S. Gymnastics Trials. Just months after a career-threatening leg injury, Horton fought back to finish third overall and make the team as its oldest member at 26.
“It was extremely emotional watching him,” DeProspero said. “We know how hard he works.”
At the trials, Horton’s family wore green shirts with his name on them provided by one of his sponsors, BP. Nichols said a group of girls stopped him and asked if he was with Horton, and he said yes. He then got him to send a text to the girls thanking them for being a fan.
Nichols said they also met a woman who had been at the trials four years before with her daughter, who was trying to catch the attention of Nastia Liukin. When the little girl couldn’t make contact with Liukin in the crowd, she broke down to cry. Horton stopped, talked with her and posed for a picture.
“She’s now a big Jon Horton fan,” DeProspero said. “But that’s who he is. He’s a good and grounded guy – very down-to-earth.”
Along with BP, Horton has picked up a few other sponsorships. He’s in a pair of commercials for BP and BMW that are currently running in advance of the Olympics. He’s also been in recent issues of Vogue and GQ.
Because of their postings on Facebook, many of Nichols’ and DeProspero’s friends are fast becoming fans of Horton.
“One of my old classmates that lives north of Amarillo texted me, ‘who is this Jon Horton that I’m posting about?’” Nichols said. “I told him, and he said ‘I’ll root for him.’”
Chuck and Dayna are holding out hope that they can join her daughter and Horton in London for the games, but it’s an expensive undertaking. Flights are more than $1,000, and rooms are costing that much for a night. Tickets to each session are also quite costly.
If they can’t make the games, they hope to have a watching party at Bono’s to see Horton with that tape on his ring finger bring home a medal.
The men’s gymnastics competition begins July 28 from London with qualifications. The final events are Aug. 7 with individual competitions in the horizontal bar and parallel bars.