As the Olympic gymnastics champion, Nastia Liukin has traveled the world, hobnobbed with celebrities, even walked the runway at New York's Fashion Week.
But she can still remember going through that awkward phase that's a part of life for pretty much every teenage girl. Gymnastics helped her cope with it, giving her something of her own and boosting her confidence, and Liukin is hoping to share that message. She and Warner Bros. announced Tuesday that Supergirl, the brand based on the DC Comics character who is Superman's younger cousin, will sponsor the inaugural Nastia Liukin Cup in March.
"Hopefully it will bring a message of empowerment, that, `OK, I can do whatever I set my mind to,'" Liukin told The Associated Press. "It's a huge thing, especially for girls that age. They're still trying to figure out who they are and what they want to do with their lives. Between your friends and your parents and school and doing extra activities, you could be a little bit lost. The Supergirl brand kind of defines that attitude of do what you love to do.
"It's making good decisions outside of school. Who you're friends with, the decisions you make," she added. "But it's also the empowerment of doing what you love to do and being confident in yourself."
The Nastia Liukin Supergirl Cup is an event for up-and-coming gymnasts, not elite athletes. Qualifying meets began last weekend, and 36 girls will advance to the March 5 event at the DCU Center in Worcester, Mass. The girls will get a special leotard that's been designed by Liukin and has the Supergirl "S" shield on the sleeve, and they will be introduced at the American Cup the following day.
The meet is also being shown on Universal Sports.
"Who knows if this will be their last experience with gymnastics. Or it could be a great first step to the rest of their careers," Liukin said. "For these 36 girls that are out there, I just hope they're so excited and thankful for the things they've already accomplished. Even if they never make that leap (to elite gymnastics), to know they competed this one year and got that experience and got to be on that stage ... it's a huge spotlight."
Getting involved with the Nastia Liukin Cup was a natural for Supergirl, said Barry Ziehl, senior vice president for Warner Bros. consumer products.
The brand is designed to encourage young girls to be strong, confident and healthy, and sports is an ideal way to do that. It already hosts the Supergirl Jam, the only action sports event just for girls.
"It's incredible for girls of today that they can look at athletes like Nastia and these action-sports athletes and be empowered, be inspired, both on the field and off the field of play," Ziehl said.
Though Liukin is currently taking time off from gymnastics, don't count her out of the London Olympics in 2012.
She hasn't fully committed to a comeback yet, but she's back in the gym whenever she's home in Dallas and is also working with a trainer to increase her strength. She's also let her sponsors know that, if she does return to competition, her priority come 2011 will be training and competition.
Liukin tried to juggle her commercial obligations with training last year and discovered it didn't work. She did one event at nationals in Dallas, but withdrew from consideration for the world team because she didn't feel she was in good enough shape.
"I needed the time off. There was no way I'd be able to compete through four years," Liukin said. "I need to get myself in the position to where I can be ready to compete. As of right now, it's so hard to say, `OK, I'm 100 percent committed to 2011 and 2012.'"
But as Liukin talks about the upcoming Vancouver Olympics, the more it sounds like a matter of when she'll return, not if.
"I'm sure I'm going to be like `Ah! I want to be out there.' It might make it a little bit easier that it's winter," she said. "That's why I think I have to be in London, I don't want to be on the outside of things."