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"Chalked Up"

This article is more than 11 years old.
With the Summer Olympics fast approaching, no doubt the sound of "oohs" and "ahhs" will echo from the stands as gymnasts seem to defy gravity. As they will leap and somersault through the air, many of us are completely unaware of what some gymnasts endure behind the scenes. In Chalked Up: Inside Elite Gymnastics’ Merciless Coaching, Overzealous Parents, Eating Disorders, and Elusive Olympic Dreams, Jennifer Sey exposes the darker side of the sport and what many athletes experience growing up in a life dominated by gymnastics.

Last week there was a gymnastics exhibition in the arena across the street from WBUR. As I walked from work to my car late one afternoon, I shared the sidewalk with several spectators heading for that exhibition. They were girls, perhaps ten or eleven years old, and they looked as if they couldn’t have been happier. They turned handsprings and cartwheels on the sidewalk while they parents chatted and walked behind them. The girls seemed fearless and invulnerable. They laughed a lot. The other side of gymnastics is evident in the stories Jennifer Sey tells in Chalked Up. Sey began gymnastics for fun, but the fun soon gave way to five hour practices five times a week. She began gymnastics to get some healthy exercise, but the demands of the sport led to such unhealthy practices as starving herself, gulping laxatives, and competing with injuries. Sey became a national champion, but mere months after that triumph she had begun to regard herself as “heavy with the weight of aging, failure, and being left behind.” Chalked Up is a grim read. The only encouraging side to the story Jennifer Sey has to tell is that she appears to have grown out of the dependence and destructive practices that she says are built in to the sport at which she excelled.

This program aired on June 12, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.

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