By Christy Sandmaier
Last week, the news so many in the gymnastics universe were waiting for happened. The roster for the GK U.S. Classic was released and Chellsie Memmel’s name was on it. Personally, I had never scrolled through a list so quickly to reach the state of Wisconsin!
In a stacked and star-studded field that includes the 2019 gold medal-winning World Championships team, 2016 Rio gold and silver medalist Laurie Hernandez, 2017 World All-around Champion Morgan Hurd, Winter Cup Champion Jordan Chiles, and of course, the GOAT Simone Biles, 2008 Olympic silver medalist Memmel will compete in her first meet in nine years.
I spoke with Chellsie last October for a cover feature in our November 2020 issue of Inside Gymnastics. She was both excited and calm, confident and forthcoming in the interview, and completely at peace with her gymnastics journey.
So, as we head to Indianapolis this week, whatever the outcome, Chellsie continues to inspire each one of us. Her self-described “bonus round” has already been worth every minute and everything else is just extra. And maybe, just maybe, about to hit the next level.
The following interview ran in the November 2020 issue of Inside Gymnastics magazine.
For Chellsie Memmel, it’s all about family, balance and loving the journey she’s on. Her official comeback announcement prompted a collective gymternet cheer heard ‘round the world and inspired all of us to reach beyond what we ever thought possible.
The 2008 Olympic team silver-medalist and 2005 World All-Around champion, who retired in 2012, says she wouldn’t change a thing about a career complete with incredible accolades, untimely injuries and definitive life lessons. By her side at every twist and turn has been her family. Her father and coach, Andy, and mom Jeanelle, owners of M&M Gymnastics, are her biggest inspiration.
Now married with two children, Chellsie’s comeback is about making herself happy and loving her gymnastics journey more than making any team she says. Though the competitor in her has definitely asked “why not?” when it comes to dreaming about walking out onto the floor in Tokyo 2021.
With great respect for the sport and the genuine process of getting into incredible competitive shape and structuring routines, Chellsie is taking everything in stride just as she always has. It’s simply beautiful and motivational to witness her journey and hear her perspective on the sport that holds her heart as an athlete, coach, and judge. She hopes seeing her work hard will inspire her children.
In so many ways, Chellsie’s journey to a comeback is the journey gymnastics and all of us needed at this moment in time. And to that we say, #Chellyeah!
Talk about striking a healthy balance and your perspective when you’re trying to reach such a huge goal.
It’s a lot different this time around with my approach to training. I got in shape before I started doing gymnastics. Whereas before, I was always doing both. The season was so up and down, or, if I was returning from injury I was trying to do it all at once. To get back into shape while you’re doing gymnastics is really hard. This time, I did a lot of that work before I started doing gymnastics. I learned a lot more about my body, what it needed and how it responded to working out differently. I’m doing gymnastics three days a week and Tuesdays and Thursdays are just conditioning days. It’s helping me to have that recovery day and I’m still making forward progress. And it’s also different because my priorities are different. Having my kids is such a big part of my life and the most important part of my life. The gymnastics is something just for me.
It’s such a different year entirely for everyone not knowing when the next camp or competition will be. How do you plan a comeback around that?
Right now for me, I’m just enjoying what I’m doing. I’m enjoying the practices and enjoying this journey. I feel like this is such a bonus round. I’ve accomplished anything I could want to accomplish in this sport. This is just a bonus. Just to see and just to push myself. To see how I can train differently with a family. I’m excited about what I’m doing, the progress I’m making and that I’m able to learn new skills. I’m happy with where I am and just hoping everything will go on as scheduled. And if it doesn’t, there’s not much we can do about it.
Skill-wise, what have you had the most fun trying so far?
I really love the piked Arabian. I really hope that is something that could be realistic on the beam. It’s a skill that I enjoy doing. The double double is getting to be fun. I don’t know if I’ll ever compete it. To learn something completely new – I never tried it – I always had trouble picturing it in my head and knowing what the feeling would be. To be able to do them consistently now into the pit without getting lost or getting a little bit freaked out, and to be able to visualize it and separate the skill as a full full – I’m really proud of that.
What does the training plan, the map, so to speak, look like the next few months?
Each event is going to be a little bit different. Bars obviously we’re taking the most time with and rightfully so, just to be smart. Beam by far is the farthest along. We usually don’t put together a beam routine before we have a floor routine. We are working skill sets to see what’s going to fit. We’re putting together the puzzle of what a routine should be and what could be easily competed and then working to get those harder skills in there. Floor will be a big puzzle too, trying to figure what passes go in. What would be realistic to compete, not just what I can do!
Do you think if Martha Karoyli was still in her role as National Team Coordinator that you would have made this commitment to come back?
It’s hard to say. I don’t know the answer. I would hope if it was something I truly wanted to do that nothing would stop me.
You’ve said you feel healthier and stronger this time. That can inspire people to rethink the way they used to train or work out or eat – it doesn’t have to be done the way it was before…
Exactly. I’m in such a different place mentally, physically, my relationships with food – it’s all changed for the better. That is another reason why I wanted to share this journey. There is a better way. Even though I had so much support, it’s really hard to navigate when you’re younger. I am stronger. I am fitter. That part is just amazing to me.
The climate across social media is so different from when you previously competed. Does it make you nervous to put so much out there?
With feeling like this is a bonus round and it being what it is, I thought, why not share more of this journey and share the ups and downs? Not everybody has been out for eight years obviously, but everybody was forced to take a break or train differently these last few months. It’s important to show you can get these skills back. It might not be the second you walk back into the gym, which obviously wouldn’t be smart anyway. I took a ton of time to get back in shape and do the conditioning. I did that first and the skills came back easier than I thought they would.
You had very different journeys leading up to 2004, 2008 and 2012. In a letter to your younger self, what would you say to Chellsie each of those quads?
Maybe just knowing that I would have this bonus round. I am proud of every single journey I was on. Not that any of those were the best or had the outcomes I wanted or pictured for myself, but I’m totally proud and completely at peace with each of those pieces in time. One of the biggest things for me is that I know now how to condition, how to eat differently and balanced, and truly know the importance of that. I’m also not killing myself in the gym for hours and hours. I figured out what works for my body and I truly enjoy it.
All of us were excited to see Adult Gymnastics as inspiration and motivation even prior to your official comeback. “#chellsiesadultgymnasticsjourney” is such a great platform…
That part of it has been amazing and a little bit overwhelming. The coolest part of it, I think, was that people reached out to me and they’re trying gymnastics again. Or, not even just gymnastics, but when people tell me they’re taking a dance class again or that they’ve started running again – that they’re doing something they love to do – that part of it has been the most special. To truly understand the effect, especially over social media which I kind of fought against, but to feel connected to people and to be encouraged that way is really special.
Has your mind or your heart allowed itself to picture walking out on the floor in Tokyo 2021?
That still feels very far away. I know how truly difficult it will be to make that team and how many women are fighting for those spots. But, why not try? I don’t have anything to lose.
Is there special inspiration for your children within this journey?
I hope they just see me working hard for something. Even if they don’t understand it yet, they see what I’m doing and they know that I’m there. They also see I’m enjoying what I’m doing and that’s the best message.
Who inspires you most?
My parents are two of the most hardworking people I know. To watch how hard we worked as a family to figure out this crazy chapter that was the pandemic… It’s our life. It’s our livelihood. They truly care about the gym, the sport, the people. They care about everybody who walks in the doors. They are my biggest inspiration for everything they’ve done and everything they’ve given me – their belief in me.
Per a USA Gymnastics press release, due to the volume of competitors qualified to compete in the GK U.S. Classic senior division, the field will be divided between two sessions on Saturday, May 22. Session assignments were chosen by random draw per USA Gymnastics’ rules and policies. Memmel will compete in Session 1.
The first senior session on May 22 will stream on NBC’s Peacock, starting at 1 p.m. ET; the second senior session will be broadcast on NBCSN May 22 at 7 p.m. ET.
The junior competition has been moved to Friday, May 21, and both GK Hopes Championships divisions, 11-12 and 13-14, will compete in a single session.
Look for more coverage across our website and social media throughout the week, and live from Indianapolis!
Photo credit Beijing: Grace Chiu for Inside Gymnastics
Cover Story photo credit: Scott Curty for Inside Gymnastics
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