February 25, 2024

Mary Lou Retton spent Christmas at home.

That meant the world to the 55-year-old U.S. gymnastics legend, who is still recovering from a rare form of pneumonia that kept her hospitalized in intensive care for several weeks in the fall.

“I’m not great yet. I know it’s going to be a really long road,” Retton told NBC News’ Hoda Kotb in an interview that aired Monday on the “Today” show.

“I don’t know how long I’ll indefinitely need the oxygen,” she added while gesturing toward her nasal cannula, “but you have no idea how blessed and how grateful I was for this holiday season.”

Sitting on a couch next to her oldest daughter, Shayla Schrepfer, at Retton’s home in Boerne, Texas, the five-time Olympic medalist was giving her first interview since McKenna Kelley, the second oldest of Retton’s four daughters, revealed Oct. 10 on Instagram that her mother was “fighting for her life” in intensive care after contracting “a very rare form of pneumonia.”

“I’m very private. And to come out and talk about it — usually my interviews are, ‘Oh yes, it felt great to win the Olympics,’ you know?” Retton said. “This is different. This is serious and this is life. And I am so grateful to be here. I am blessed to be here, because there was a time when they were about to put me on life support.”

One day this fall, a neighbor noticed that a car door had been left open in Retton’s driveway and went inside the former gymnast’s house to let her know.

That’s when the neighbor found Retton on the floor struggling to breathe.

“Pretty much saved my life,” Retton said of her neighbor. “I mean, I was — what did she say? — white, blue. I don’t even remember it.”

Retton said she was taken to the emergency room, where she was diagnosed with pneumonia and sent home after a couple of days. But the next day, Schrepfer found her mother nearly unresponsive. Retton was taken to another hospital, where she was immediately admitted to the ICU with her oxygen levels dropping.

Schrepfer said doctors told her they weren’t sure if her mother would make it through the night.

“And so McKenna and I, we put our hands on her and we said a prayer,” Schrepfer said.

“They were saying their goodbyes to me,” Retton added.

But Retton pulled through, and after a few up-and-down weeks was released Oct. 23 to continue her recovery at home.

Still, there was another issue that Retton’s daughters revealed on social media during the ordeal — their mother, who was known as America’s sweetheart in 1984 after becoming the first U.S. woman to win Olympic gold in the all-around competition, was uninsured.

“When COVID hit after my divorce, and all my preexisting — I mean, I’ve had over 30 operations, orthopedic stuff — I couldn’t afford it,” Retton told Kotb of health insurance.

Retton’s daughters set up an online fundraiser that has raised more than $450,000 to help cover her medical expenses.

“I thought I was a washed-up old athlete, but the love was just — it touched me,” said Retton, who told Kotb she now has health insurance.

Retton acknowledged that she still has a long recovery process ahead but feels that there have been “so many more positives than negatives” from her health scare.

“I mean, when you face death in the eyes — I have so much to look forward to,” she said. “I’m a fighter and I’m not gonna give up. I’m not gonna give up. I have no idea what the future holds for me. I don’t know if I’m gonna have lasting issues with my lungs. They don’t know. I mean, I wish I had answers. But I would never give up. It’s not in me.”

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