Tripleguess's Reviews > Chalked Up: Inside Elite Gymnastics' Merciless Coaching, Overzealous Parents, Eating Disorders, and Elusive Olympic Dreams

Chalked Up by Jennifer Sey
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Nov 07, 09


** spoiler alert ** This was not a feel-good read. Well, from the title, I couldn't expect it to be -- but I was cringing by the end of the book, waiting for the next fall or terrible injury or round of abuse from the coach.

Wow. I've always been interested in gymnastics, but now I'm somewhat grateful I was never able to take classes during my pushover childhood. Although I doubt I would have garnered the kind of abuse-attention described here, since I'm not competitive.

It still boggles my mind that coaches in the U.S. of A. might actually coerce a young performer into injuring her body, to court behaviors with long-term consequences (eating disorders, etc.), to dread normal female maturation, to stress herself so badly that she turns to abnormal coping mechanisms, all so she can net a couple ounces of metal. I believe it, but ouch.

There's something wrong with a sport if you have to damage your body just to stay competitive. Hard work and reasonable dedication should be enough, but the measures described herein smack of insanity. Where's the recognition of human uniqueness, the enjoyment of a challenge for its own sake?

I think that was the point of this book: "I had to start my life, for real this time, without the concocted pressures of gymnastics, the conjured, artificial meaning of competition." (P. 273)

Sadly, at the end of the book it doesn't feel like the writer has resolved the real problem: gladiator-level gymnastics was merely a manifestation of an underlying need to feel appreciated and valued, to be "good enough." Gymnastics stop near the end of the book, but the gnawing insecurities don't. "Feelings of failure follow me. Not failure itself, but the feeling of never being good enough." (P. 275)

Even after finding a stable relationship, the incompleteness remains: "We knew better than to be happy when we would just end up disappointed, so we distracted ourselves with counterculture parties."

So, at the end, it feels like the real problem hasn't gone anywhere, and gymnastics was just a side trip, with many an abusive and enabling adult along the way who should have known better. I pray the author finds real closure and peace and healing after everything she went through.

P.S. I do hope and expect that this title prompted some reform within the sport!
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