Gymnast Katelyn Ohashi became a star after a video of her joyous floor routine — which earned her a perfect 10 — went viral in January. But that it happened at all is a feat of physical and mental strength, after painful injuries and severe body shaming almost led the UCLA senior to quit the sport altogether.
Ohashi endured difficult back and shoulder injuries in 2013 that required surgery, and ended her Olympic dreams.
When she returned to the mat, Ohashi, now 22, was self-conscious about her body, and comments from a coach didn’t help.
“I was trying to work through the pain and crying literally every turn I took,” she told BBC Sport. “A coach was upset I had put on weight — he said it was why it was hurting.”
Ohashi said she felt judged about her size.
“As gymnasts, our bodies are constantly being seen in these minimal clothing leotards. I felt so uncomfortable looking in the mirror. I felt uncomfortable walking back into the gym, like there were eyes just targeted at me,” she said. “I hated taking pictures. I hated everything about myself.”
Ohashi said that the comments from coaches or jokes she made with friends about skipping meals to lose weight wore away at her mental health.
“You start normalizing things because that’s what you know and you grow up surrounded by people that are going through the same thing as you, so it becomes what you expect almost,” she said. “But when you look back on it, I do think it’s a form of abuse. It was common, especially in the elite world.”
As Ohashi prepared to join the gymnastics team at UCLA, she talked to her new coach about how she was afraid of finding success in the sport again and opening herself up to criticism, because she “correlated greatness with misery.” But the coaching staff encouraged her to go to therapy.
“Coming to UCLA and being pushed to go to the psychological services, being surrounded by a coaching staff which really puts athletes as people before the sport itself, has definitely been crucial in my growing as a person and my mental health,” she said.
At UCLA, she was able to find her love of gymnastics again — and nail that much-loved floor routine. Ohashi will graduate next month with a degree in gender studies, and said that she’s accepted her body.
“Everybody’s bodies are different and there’s not a single body that is the perfect body because there are constant trends,” she said. “Being comfortable with the only person that matters, yourself, is something that you can forever work towards. You’re the only person that has your back and you’re the only person that has your skin 100% of the time.”