Here’s one of Team USA’s best bets for winning gold in Tokyo.
At 21 years old, Brody Malone is a member of the U.S. men’s gymnastics team.
He’s also a Tri-Cities Original whose journey to the Tokyo Olympics began here in Northeast Tennessee.
“Going back home and visiting always helps bring back memories,” Malone said in a recent interview with News Channel 11.
Brody’s father, John “JD” Malone, grew up in Elizabethton. He and his wife Tracy started their family here and he says Brody and his siblings come home whenever they can.
“They really think of that as home,” J.D. Malone said. “They’re like, ‘Dad, when are we going back home?'”
The Malone family moved to Georgia when Brody was 5. J.D. and Tracy were longtime rodeo competitors. Their children inherited the competitive gene with Brody excelling in rodeo, baseball, and, to the surprise of his father, gymnastics.
“That was not in my plan for sure,” J.D. said. “But it was Tracy who was his biggest fan from the start.”
Within a few years, Brody dropped everything and, on his own, devoted himself to time in the gym. “Five or six hours a day…five or six days a week…wasn’t uncommon for Brody,” his dad said.
And early on, Brody set a goal.
“Brody has said that he was going to the Olympics,” J.D. said. “That was just his goal.”
That goal was realized earlier this year when the Stanford University powerhouse won this year’s U.S. Men’s Gymnastics Championship and a spot on the U.S. Olympic team.
“I’m not a fan of the fame,” Brody said. “If it were up to me, I’d just like to do gymnastics.”
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Despite Brody’s preference for the low-profile life, he knows his position on the U.S. Olympic team will ensure the glare of global publicity.
His dad says Brody will manage it with grace, but he says there’s one voice cheering him on that Brody would give anything to hear.
“She was the one that saw the talent in him,” J.D. said of his late wife Tracy. “And I can still hear her voice. She was always the loudest one cheering on her son.”
He said that was the case even after the cancer diagnosis and the treatments that didn’t seem to work.
“She was a warrior,” J.D. said. “She didn’t want to leave her babies. To the very end, she fought hard.”
When Tracy died, J.D. says 12-year-old Brody helped raise his three younger siblings.
Two years later, after remarrying, J.D.’s second wife died suddenly of a brain aneurism. The future Olympian once again had lost a mom.
“It’s pretty grueling,” J.D. said. “But it’s just life. And life happens.”
Through the grief, Brody learned to survive one gymnastics practice at a time.
“I think it gave Brody an outlet to get some of the grief out,” J.D. said. “It gave him something to do.”
That focus will be needed more than ever when he competes in Tokyo.
“He’s a pretty incredible kid,” J.D. said. “He’s very very solid. He’s competing for all of us.”
Whatever the outcome, Brody’s dad says he expects his son to represent the U.S. with pride.
“He loves God and he loves his country,” J.D. said. “He’s competing for all of us.”