An injury sidetracked her 1984 Olympic dreams, but not her passion or enthusiasm for the sport.
Gary native and elite gymnast Dianne Durham was on her way to making the 1984 U.S. Olympic team, before an injury in the Olympic Trials cost her the chance. She later learned that because she did not compete in the 1983 World Championships (due to another injury), she could not be petitioned to the team.
Durham was the first African-American female elite gymnast, capturing titles and the hearts of Americans in the 1980s. She was Bela Karolyi's first elite gymnast in the United States.
Durham, who lives in Chicago with her husband Tom Drahozal, said she had nothing but a big smile on her face as well as excitement and pride when she saw Gabby Douglas win two gold medals at the London Games. Douglas is the first African-American female gymnast to win a gold medal at the Olympics.
"I was just so happy for Gabby," Durham said. "She is really a treasure and I think a role model. I really hope more African-Americans will get involved in the sport.
"To just see how she did her routines and how hard she worked, that is what impressed me. The fact she has Gary roots, that makes it even better because I am still proud to tell people where I am from. I grew up on Gerry Street across from West Side High School."
Durham is not retired as she still judges competitions and is working on an autobiography that will stress not only her career, but thank those who helped her, including her parents Ural and the late Calvinita.
"A lot of people, including my mom and dad, gave me the support," Durham said. "There were a lot of great people along the way."
Durham is a role model to not only gymnasts, but to African-American women as well. She ran Skyline Gymnastics for 17 years and is still a judge and a motivational speaker.
"I think African-American women can look up and see what Gabby accomplished," Durham said. "I always encourage anyone to do their best and gymnastics is not a sport that is big in the African-American communities. When I was growing up, it was football and basketball."
Durham said she still is thrilled when little kids come up and ask for her autograph.
"They know me as a coach, their parents know me from when I competed," Durham said. "It is still a thrill to talk with young gymnasts and encourage them."
Her mom got her started when she was 3 years old and she was originally trained by the late Wanda Tomasi at Tomasi's Merrillville facility.
"She was great," Durham said. "She told my mom that I was of Olympic caliber and she could not train me because she didn't have the facilities."
Durham moved to Houston and was then trained by Karolyi. She said at a 1983 U.S. Senior National meet in Chicago, Tomasi choreographed her floor routine.
"Bela let her do it and I was elated," Durham said. "When she passed away, her daughter told me how flattered she was that Bela let her do that."
Durham said she never thought about the Olympics as much as she did on getting her routines down.
"It was a lot of work, but also a lot of fun," Durham said. "I just concentrated on doing what I had to do to win and get points. I guess you work with short-term goals and accomplish them and move on."