Friday, August 29, 2008

Rips were the least of her worries

Chalked Up: Inside Elite Gymnastics' Merciless Coaching, Overzealous Parents, Eating Disorders, and Elusive Olympic Dreams
by Jennifer Sey

Reading this book made me so glad that I was never all that talented a gymnast. The author was the national champion in 1986, and tells the story of how she went from a precocious toddler turning cartwheels to a young, self-motivated competitor to a teenager dealing with parental issues, abusive coaches, debilitating injuries, and self-destructive tendencies, to her eventual exit from the sport.

Seriously, she was worrying about her own weight as an 8-year-old, long before switching gyms to one where the coaches essentially starved their gymnasts. Sey had one nurturing coach, and other coaches who were more concerned with performance than the health (mental and physical) of their girls, to the point where the conspired with doctors to determine "healing" regimines for serious things like snapped tibias that minimized the time before training could re-start, regardless of how it'd impact her over time. Craziness. She was hooked on laxatives, had parents who sacrificed their lives to help her and then wouldn't let her quit, and essentially had a breakdown before she could make it to the Olympics in 1988. There are so many things we casual observers don't think about that rule these girls' lives - when you start competing on the senior level year or two after the previous Olympics, the only way to make it to the next one is to maintain or, better, improve your ability and standing for perhaps three years. That's a lifetime in the world of elite gymnastics, considering the risks for injuries, self-destruction, and the new, younger, more talented girls showing up each year. It's no wonder so many of the national champions peak quickly and then drop out of sight.

Part autobiography, part cautionary tale, Sey seems to have used the writing process to work through her (numerous) lingering issues. Sey and her fellow gymnasts knew that they were not being treated well, that there were definite problems with their coaches and the overall system, but often conspired to keep the knowledge of this from their parents, knowing they'd be taken away from the sport they loved. I can imagine any parent of a gymnast reading this and freaking out, but as a former gymnast (albeit one never able to do many of the skills that Sey mastered before she turned 10) who lucked out on the coaching front, it just shows how the path could have been very different.

Labels: , , ,

posted by ket at 1:12 PM


Blogger Elizabeth said...

Random comment, but whenever I see this cover when checking for Rage updates, I think the same thing: Man, those hands look wicked strong."

9/17/2008 9:46 PM  

Post a Comment