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Mary Lou Retton defends daughters’ fundraiser to pay her medical bills

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Former Olympic gymnast Mary Lou Retton clapped back at haters who criticized her daughters for starting a fundraising campaign to help with her medical expenses while she was battling a rare form of pneumonia in October 2023.

“They didn’t deserve that. They were just trying to take care of me,” Retton told Entertainment Tonight in an interview published Wednesday.

She added, “I don’t care about the naysayers. There are trolls everywhere. It’s what makes us America. Everybody’s got an opinion, but it is what it is.”

Retton, 56, expressed how “grateful” she was to the nearly 10,000 people who donated a whopping total of over $459,000.

A selfie of Mary Lou Retton with her daughter
“They didn’t deserve that. They were just trying to take care of me,” Retton told Entertainment Tonight in an interview published Wednesday. Instagram/@marylouretton
Mary Lou Retton with her daughter
Retton’s daughters started a fundraising campaign after her mom’s battle with pneumonia last fall. Instagram/@marylouretton

“You’re welcome to your opinion, but you weren’t in that situation. My daughters stepped up to the plate, and they saved my life and all the love and support saved my life, and these finances will only go to medical bills and I said what’s left will go to the American Lung Association because I am now a member of the lung disease community,” she said.

Retton thanked her four daughters –– Shayla, McKenna, Skyla and EMMA Schrepfer –– for organizing the fundraiser and said she “couldn’t have done it without my daughters.”

“I just couldn’t have. I mean, I don’t know where I’d be,” she continued. “It’s my daughters who inspire me. They were strong. I can’t imagine them seeing me on my deathbed, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that I was.

“They’ve shown me pictures of myself, and I didn’t even look like me. They inspire me, and they do every day. They’re extraordinary young women. They’re my biggest accomplishments. Take my five medals. I’ll take my daughters over that any time.”

Mary Lou Retton smiling with her daughters
Retton said she “couldn’t have done it without my daughters” — Shayla, McKenna, Skyla and Emma Schrepfer. Instagram/@marylouretton
Mary Lou Retton and daughter McKenna Kelley posing together
“My daughters stepped up to the plate, and they saved my life,” Retton gushed. NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

Retton recalled “sobbing” after finding out about the donations and seeing all “the bills” that “were and are still coming in.”

The Olympic gold medal winner was previously earning money through speaking engagements, but her career suffered during the pandemic.

“Our job is to be near people and talk to them and so there was no work whatsoever, so I mean, it’s not like it used to be. Let’s say that like the height of my fame was years ago and I just, you know, doing enough to make it, doing enough to pay my bills,” she shared.

Retton revealed in January that she was hospitalized for a rare form of pneumonia in October 2023.

Mary Lou Retton smiling in a throwback photo
The Olympian admitted to struggling to make money with speaking engagements during COVID. Bettmann Archive
Mary Lou Retton posing with her daughter
Retton shared the emotional health update in January. Instagram/@marylouretton

“This is serious, and this is life, and I’m so grateful to be here,” she said on the “Today” show. “I am blessed to be here because there was a time when they were about to put me on life support.”

Four months later, Retton said that she is “still on oxygen” and is “better,” but “not where I want to be.”

“I still have the part-time breathing and getting breaths, you know, and I’m a speaker and haven’t been able to work cause I don’t know if I can get up on stage and do an hour-long talk like I’ve normally done for 40 years. That’s frustrating,” she told ET.

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