For most athletes, their peak physique is between 16-21 years old. We're fed this mentality that you retire from fun and immediately switch gears into a professional career. The thousands of us passionate about a sport we love but had to let go due to injuries, and predominantly society, are left to a once-a-week recreational class. That's if you're not laughed at or shown the door. For some of us, this is our workout, our escape from daily life, a definition of who we are. For some of us, completing a physical skill is a mental accomplishment, a chance at finding some purpose.
The most challenging sport in the world will always be, for me, artistic gymnastics. It's the absolute combination of mental and physical ability. It truly comes down to your knowledge of skills that your body can control. In other words, 'perfection in motion.' The emotional and physical demand this sport promptly provides is enough to break even the fiercest competitor. Yet, it gives a comfortable notion that humans are beyond what we know to be true. We are capable of more than we give ourselves credit.
And no better example of this than 45-year-old Oksana Chusovitina and 32-year-old Chellsie Memmel. I should note that the very notion of 24-year-old Simone Biles' existence alone is baffling as she continues to pull out tricks never attempted and land them successfully. She's THE most decorated female gymnast (2013-2015, 2018-2019 World Champion beyond the 2016 Olympic champion). In a nutshell, she's got some super-woman severe stamina.
It's rare to see a complete comeback in the rigorous sport of gymnastics, moreover, after giving birth. Yet, Russia's elegant Aliya Mustafina had a daughter after Olympic gold in Rio and competed until 2019. Memmel just wrapped up her first major competition since the Beijing Olympics in 2008. After The Games, she went on to the judging panel and had two children. To stay in shape, she began conditioning and confiding in her father, owner of the family gym, and former coach. Eventually retesting her gymnastics knowledge on the mat and then the apparatus, she connected with the gym-ternet via social media, and the rest fell into place. She crafted older skills into a newer code-of-points routine and made her way to The U.S. Classic, the precursor to The U.S. Olympic Trials.
In no time at all, many of us former gymnasts now adults began taking their cue after Memmel and tagging her story with their media posts. It didn't matter if it was a cartwheel on a beam or a back-tuck; Memmel brings a sense of clarity that we can do everything if we believe in ourselves. Although having a natural support team like a family member and accessing a gym is a bit of a boost. However, the loops of even qualifying to qualify are enough to make most of us quit on the first paragraph of the rule books. Regardless of Memmel's outcome at the upcoming Olympic Trials, she's an absolute winner and motivator in LIFE.
If Memmel does grab a ticket to Tokyo, she will likely join Poland's Marta Pihan-Kulesza as another mom actively competing in her thirties. Several former female gymnasts have competed in their 30s, and some as mothers; yet, one significantly stands out—the quiet yet dynamic Oksana Chusuvitina of Uzbekistan. At the age of 13, she became the USSR's junior national champion before being selected to the 1992 Unified Olympic team. Since then, she's competed in seven consecutive Olympic Games and 16 World Championships.
Despite what I imagine to be a tough transition between the Soviet Union, her native Uzbekistan, Germany, and now back to her native country, Chusuvitina has been a solid advocate for younger athletes, reminding them why they love the sport. With the help of the German delegation, she was able to continue training and thus represent Germany between 2006-2012 while her son received medical treatment. Now under her native nation, she'll be competing in her eighth and final Olympics this summer.
So why is this important? Simply they do it because they love it and know exactly who they are.