Stacey placed fourth in one of her first meets back, the 1986 American Classic. Her reward was a spot in the lineup for the upcoming USA vs. USSR dual meet. “USA vs. USSR was very exciting. I had family there who had never seen me perform live. My family sacrificed so much for me, and it was nice to show that something good was coming out of it.”
Stacey focused ahead to the upcoming U.S. National Championships, but fell victim to a pulled hamstring and torn knee cartilage in her weak knee. “It was a physical therapist who talked to my parents and told them that continuing to train was not a wise idea. We were planning to continue, and Bela was all for it. If you didn’t compete at Nationals, you didn’t get a ranking.” Stacey resigned herself to not competing, and went in for a second arthroscopic surgery.
When Stacey returned to gymnastics she trained with Gizi Oltean, a former coach from Karolyi’s who had opened her own club in the Houston area. Yearning for elite teammates for support and day-to-day competition, in 1987 Stacey moved to California to train under Don Peters. “SCATS was a very good place for me to be. I think it was a much more nurturing environment than Karolyi’s.”
Stacey worked hard to make the Pan Am Games and World Championships teams that year, and her body cooperated. Ranked seventh in the USA that year, Stacey was the first alternate for both teams. When Hope Spivey became injured and couldn’t travel with the team, the USGF’s rules stipulated that Stacey move from first alternate to the sixth gymnast on the floor. Instead, an unranked gymnast was selected to fill the position. Stacey found the events surrounding the World Championships especially difficult to understand and accept.
Stacey proved her value at the 1988 U.S. National Championships, placing 5th overall with a new double layout on floor and a double front off bars. Stacey admits that she just “fell apart” at the Olympic trials that followed. “In terms of technique, SCATS was definitely better. I learned how to swing bars there, not muscle them. But one downfall was that we didn’t work out nearly as many hours as at Karolyi’s, and that left me feeling really unprepared. Olympic trials was a lot of pressure – too much.”
The Gunthorpe family was waiting for Stacey when she returned from Trials. Years before, the family made a pact to move wherever Stacey happened to be training in her last year before the Olympics. "As you might imagine, the daily rigors I faced in preparing for the Olympic Trials created levels of stress and anxiety far greater than you might encounter in the average teenager's home. These pressures affected all of my family members. Despite this additional tension, I greatly appreciated having my family nearby. My parents saw a talent in me, much the way I think most of these parents do. They wanted to make sure they gave me every opportunity to succeed so that I wouldn't have any regrets. As a teenager, I didn't always understand the rationale behind the decisions my parents made regarding my gymnastics career, but now as an adult, I am grateful for everything they did for me."
Stacey was ready to quit after the 1988 U.S. Olympic trials, but did “feel a little torn, because that’s not how I wanted to end my career.” The desire to be a “normal kid” won out, and the family returned home to New Jersey. She graduated high school and studied history at Williams College, a small liberal arts school in Williamstown, Massachusetts.
In 1998 Stacey enrolled in a Master’s program in Counseling at Northwestern, but it “just wasn’t meant to be.” She returned to El Paso, Texas, where husband Ray was working for the El Paso Independent School District and writing his dissertation. (Ray has a doctorate in education from Harvard).
Stacey met Ray in 1988, when her brother Kevin brought Ray, his college roommate, to cheer on Stacey at the U.S. National Championships. “I actually don’t remember that encounter,” Stacey confesses, “but Ray always jokes about how I looked like a 12-year-old boy at the time. I tell him that little did he know he’d marry that 12-year-old boy some day!”
Stacey and Ray now live in San Antonio, Texas. Stacey eventually went back to school for a Master’s in Community Counseling and in December 2002 received her National Certified Counselor certificate. Many family and friends were present at her graduation party, including former U.S. National team member Robin Carter, who recently graduated with a Master’s in Business Administration.
Stacey’s certificate, along with the licensure she’ll obtain, will allow her to work with families, couples, individuals, and groups. She doesn’t yet know how she will specialize, but has some hope that she might be able to help gymnasts make the often difficult transition from elite competitor to “normal” life. “When I retired from gymnastics I didn’t have anybody to talk to,” Stacey confides. “I didn’t know what to do with myself, and I know it’s not a unique position to be in.”
Gymnastics is still a big part of Stacey’s life, and she is considering earning a judging certificate in her spare time. But with a new baby on the way, she might not have much spare time after the baby’s birth in July. Ray and Stacey are thrilled to be pregnant, and “definitely plan on finding out the baby’s gender as long as the baby cooperates!”
Author's note: Since the above article was published, Stacey gave birth to a healthy, happy baby girl. Alyssa was born July 10, 2003 weighing in at close to 7 lbs.