By Chrös McDougall | Aug. 15, 2011, 3:59 p.m. (ET)

MINNEAPOLIS – Every year on July 23, Amanda Borden sends out a text message to her teammates from the 1996 Olympic Games, reminding them that yet another year has gone by since they won the United States’ first team gymnastics gold medal in Atlanta.

This year marked the 15th anniversary.

For Kerri Strug, it might as well have been yesterday.

Now 33, she vividly remembers that day when she was 18.

It’s the final rotation. Team USA is on vault. The title is on the line. Dominique Moceanu goes twice. She falls both times. Only Strug remains. She falls too! Ligaments tear in her left ankle. But the gold is not yet secured. Strug must go again.

She does. She lands it—on one leg. She salutes the judges. She falls to her knees. It’s over.

Team USA wins gold. Strug is the hero.

Fifteen years later Strug’s crop-style haircut has been replaced by shoulder-length blonde hair. She’s traded in her leotard for a job at the Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice in Washington, D.C. But at 4-foot-10, she very much has the look of a former gymnast, and as the protagonist from one of the most memorable U.S. Olympic triumphs in recent history, the ’96 Games are never far from her consciousness.

“People are like, ‘Oh, well, do you get tired of that?’ And it’s like, ‘No it’s pretty awesome!” Strug said, her voice still brimming with enthusiasm.

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Photo by Chrös McDougall

The Olympian was in the Twin Cities to promote the Visa Championships, which will take place here next week. On Wednesday, she threw out the first pitch at the Minnesota Twins-Boston Red Sox baseball game in Minneapolis, and she led an attempt to set the world record for simultaneous somersaults a few miles down the road in St. Paul Thursday afternoon.

In between, Strug was whisked from place to place across the two cities, sharing her story over and over, before finally flying home on Thursday night.

“If it’s someone I see on the street or at a corporate event or a media-type function, it’s kind of the same message,” she said of re-telling her story. “But I have to remember that even though I’ve said it so many times, this person hasn’t heard. You know? So I’m OK re-living it because it was one of the highlights of my life.”

As Strug spoke to a throng of kid gymnasts and their parents ahead of the somersaulting (which was part of a stunt for local NBC affiliate KARE-11), she remarked that she is now almost twice as old as she was in Atlanta.

In fact, 1996 was well before the vast majority of gymnasts on hand were even born. The significance was not lost on 11-year-old Kayla Brunner, though. Along with her mom, Tiffany, Kayla first watched the video of Strug’s vault about four years ago, around the time she was starting to compete herself.

Now a Level 7 gymnast, Kayla was in St. Paul at 5:30 a.m. Thursday to see Strug film a segment for a TV morning show and back at 4 p.m. that afternoon for the somersaults.

“Now that (Kayla) is very into competing, we’ve gone back to watch all the Olympics and she can’t even fathom how (Strug) competed with her broken ankle and how she vaulted again,” Tiffany said. “(Kayla) had an injury to her ankle and had to do gymnastics injured, and she is in total awe.”

“It’s amazing that she was an Olympic gymnast and she did all that,” Kayla said, a giant smile across her face just moments after getting Strug’s autograph. “She got the gold and everything, so I thought it was really cool.”

Similar stories abound as Strug makes her media blitz across the Twin Cities. Following a stop at a local afternoon TV talk show, the show’s Facebook page begins gathering “where I was when I saw it” comments about the final vault.

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Photo by Chrös McDougall

Even though Strug says “I don’t feel like I look anything like I did 15 years ago,” she still finds that people recognize her, even if they sometimes need a hint to remember exactly where they recognize her from.

“Maybe you know me from,” Strug pauses, “the Olympics.”

Then the story follows the same path.

“It makes me feel good that so many years later people are still talking about that moment and how it impacted their life,” Strug said. “I think all of us on some level wonder why we’re here, and what’s our purpose, and hope that we have a positive impact. For me, maybe that was my moment.”

Although Strug now has a “normal” job as an analyst in the Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, she keeps close ties to the gymnastics community.

“I think once gymnastics is in your blood, it’s always there,” Strug said. “You can’t physically do it forever, but you can stay involved on some level.”

For Strug that means making appearances for USA Gymnastics and for sponsors, giving motivational speeches about her experiences and attending the major events when she can. After competing in the 1992 and 1996 Olympic Games, she has been to each of the three following Summer Games (and is hoping to make it to London next summer).

Keeping up with her Magnificent Seven teammates from Atlanta is a bit more complicated, but Strug still speaks frequently with Moceanu, with whom she trained, and six of the seven team members were able to attend a reunion at the AT&T American Cup last March in Jacksonville, Fla.

Without forgetting her past, Strug is also firmly moving forward. She has been at the Department of Justice since 2005, and in 2010 she got married. Now she spends her time largely between D.C. and her home state of Arizona, where her husband moved earlier this year. And forget about the ankle: Strug now runs marathons.

Fifteen years after coach Bela Karolyi scooped up the injured Strug and carried her to the top position on the medal podium, the gold-medal-winning gymnast is happy with where life has taken her.

“I just feel like the majority of my adolescence I focused on me,” Strug said. “So now I have an opportunity to give back to people in a different way, so I enjoy doing that.”

Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc. Chrös McDougall is a freelance contributor for teamusa.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.