With the Summer games less than a week away and gymnastics on the top of my list of sports to watch, I was looking forward to reading Chalked Up by 1986 US Gymnastic Champion Jennifer Sey.
Her memoir of the US gymnastic scene in the 80s is truly a page turner. This coming of age story is as much about the sport as Sey's overachieving, fiercely competitive personality. Although those traits might often be construed as negative, for a thirteen year old competitive gymnast they are essential.
The book is a bit repetitive, but the rhythm mirrors the relentless repetitions of "sticking" a complicated beam routine ten consecutive times. Her accounts of her injuries are particularly painful to read, and broken bones are celebrated as preferable injuries to career ending knee dislocations. Sey definitely delves into the darker side of gymnastics, how it denies a little girl childhood and denies a budding teenage womanly curves. Sey is berated for having three percent body fat at age 18 and this after abusing laxatives for years, and she states repeatedly that gymnastics is a sport for girls and at 17 she is over the hill.
There's more so
Witnessing someone's struggle with her demons definitely holds a reader's interest, and to this story add the element of public competition of one of America's favorite women's sports and you have a page turner. Sey's demons are internal (perfectionism, body image) and external (the unforgiving apparatus like uneven parallel bars, four inch wide balance beam, the vault). Her internal struggles follow her into adulthood, but as a mother of two with a career in advertising she has definitely carved a life beyond gymnastics.
You can see clips of her performing feats in competition at her website and you can buy her book online or check your local bookstore. It is a quick read and you could definitely finish it by August 10th when the female gymnasts begin competing in Beijing.