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Paperback Chalked Up: My Life in Elite Gymnastics Book

ISBN: 0061351474

ISBN13: 9780061351471

Chalked Up: My Life in Elite Gymnastics

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Book Overview

Updated With a New Introduction"I am grateful to Jennifer Sey for sharing such an honest account of her experiences as an elite gymnast. She has eloquently and fairly exposed a dark side to our sport that parents have long needed to be made aware of."--Dominique Moceanu, Olympic Gold Medal Winning Gymnast Fanciful dreams of becoming the next Nadia Comaneci led Jennifer Sey to become a gymnast at the age of six. Her early success propelled her family...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

Finally, a first-hand account

A memoir from a gymnast's point of view is long overdue in the oftentimes tedious litany of cautionary tales about high-level gymnastics. Written by an athlete, not a journalist, Jennifer Sey's Chalked Up finally fills this void. She painstakingly renders her unlikely rise to gymnastics superstardom and subsequent fall into depression and obscurity. Her story is brave, honest, and raw at times. Readers who are former gymnasts likely will have a strong emotional reaction (one way or the other) to this work; her straightforward prose becomes an open doorway to experiences, sounds, smells, and pains long forgotten. As a second unique and long overdue contribution, Sey offers us a gymnast's perspective, not during her career or immediately following, but twenty years later, as she still struggles to figure out how her former life as a gymnast meshes with her current identity as a professional woman, wife, and mother of two children. As a former elite gymnast who is now a sociologist, I am intrigued by the fervent debates this book has sparked in the gymnastics community. It is unclear how much of Sey's overall discontent with her memories of elite gymnastics can be generalized to other contexts- to other individuals' experiences, to elite gymnastics today (a lot has changed since the 1980s, as Sey herself points out), and to other varieties of elite sport or child accomplishment. What is clear is that, whether or not you agree with her rendition of what happened, Sey is definitely not over it. Her work raises important questions about the longer term effects of elite sport on self and identity, and about how the costs (and benefits) of an intensely athletic childhood play out over the life course.

Her story speaks for many...

I was a gymnast of the 1980s at SCATS in Huntington Beach, CA (then west coast rivals of Parkettes), under the direction of Don Peters. As Class I gymnasts (today's Level 10s) our workouts were combined with the confirmed Elite level athletes, many who were national team members with Jennifer. I was eager to read her book because she was someone I hadn't met but had heard about through the slumber party stories and post-meet adventure chatter at the gym. It wasn't the tell-all I was expecting, it felt very much like my own story minus the part where I win the 1986 National Championships. I was embarrassed to read her account of Peters giving the "fat speech" before the World Championships-- I thought those speeches were reserved for the members of our private gym where we had daily weight checks. We protected our bulemic and anorexic girls, covered weight gains with really good stories. I even took the fall for one high ranking gymnast's binge and purge weekend when food went missing, rather than out her. I was shocked to read about the chair being thrown at a gymnast-- I thought only our coaches threw tantrums and objects. It felt "good" to hear that I wasn't the only one who had foul language directed at me in the gym. I have a strange sense of peace knowing that we weren't alone. I hear thanks to my injuries I was one of the most expensive gymnasts at SCATS in my time. And it's thanks to those injuries I burned out before I could earn even a bottom of the barrel college scholarship. Where's my: I did my best in gymnastics for 10 years and all I got was a rib removed, a broken foot, a reconstructed ankle, and a broken wrist!" t-shirt? To the people taking issue with Jennifer's account I say if your experience was different, it was just that: different. Sometimes we feel it necessary to call the dissenter a liar to protect ourselves or correct it with our own version of what we believed happened. 1980s gymnastics was crazy and it's thanks to the gymnasts of that era it is much improved. To my friend Jen, thank you.

Why all the fuss?

Like Jenn and Betty who have already posted their reviews, I was a Parkette with Jen Sey from 1985-1987. Before Jenn and I moved in with J. Sey, we lived with some other girls in Jessica's (who has also posted) parent's house (who took in boarders living away from home). Jessica was already in college by the time I got there in 1985. I can tell you from first hand experience that what we ate was monitered and sometimes reported to the Strausses. The only thing we were allowed to have without asking was water. It was just the way it was and we all accepted it because like Jen, we all wanted to be champions. The things that Jessica claims are outright lies happened after she had left. She claims to have talked to 20 girls who trained with us during that time but she certainly hasn't talked to me (or Jen, Tracy, Betty, etc). In her review and her comments on NPR (which seemed pretty scripted to me), Jessica gets very caught up on specific examples Jen gives (like Mr. Strauss throwing a chair "AT" a gymnast). I mean, what are you saying Jess, that he did throw a chair, but just in her general direction...so it wasn't that big of a deal? Also, the announcement over the loudspeaker about a young gymnast's 2 lb weight gain and telling her she's going to look like her obese mother if she wasn't careful. Come on...those of us who were there remember how much grief she used to get about her parents size. What I don't get, as one reviewer said above, is why all the outrage? This is Jen's story. Many of us lived it right along side with her (although it's fascinating how much we actually isloated ourselves from each other during that time...even though we were all living together and going through the same stuff). I think those who are taking such umbrage to the book are missing the bigger picture. Nobody who was there during that time can possibly refute the fact that there was an extremely unhealthy emphasis on our weight. The only nutritional guidance we ever received was to eat less. All of us were terrified of the weigh-in (I remember being one of the many girls spitting in the sink, taking their bras and barretts off and actually trying to cry to loose water weight in the locker room before we got weighed). We WERE berated and shamed about our weight...that is a fact. I think the message in Jen's book is pretty clear. All of us who were there CHOSE to be there. Chose to accept the good and the bad that came with being a Parkette during that time period. The questions she raises, in telling her story, about the role of coaches and parents are important to think about. We were willing to make the sacrifices because we wanted to succeed. Since I was living away from home my parents only knew what I chose to tell them...which wasn't very much. If I had told them some of the things that went on, I wonder what they would have done. Would they have yanked me out of there kicking and screaming? That's what I wa

A Riveting Memoir

I was drawn to Jennifer Sey's book because, like many young women, I was - and still am - enamored with women's gymnastics. What kept me from putting the book down was Ms. Sey's self-awareness and honesty as she painted what was, for her, the perfect storm of a childhood: an extremely driven and perfectionistic child, extremely self-sacrificing parents that wanted to support their daughter's dream - to the extreme, an extreme sport where emotionally and physically immature girls contort their bodies performing extremely difficult routines and extreme coaches that use passive-aggressive techniques and manipulation to draw the champion out of a prepubescent girl. At no point in Sey's memoir did I read her experience as the norm in women's gymnastics - just the rare and brutal extreme. Of the four elements that came together: child, parents, sport, coaches - each one brought the "win above all else" attitude to the mix to create a recipe for disaster. Had even one of those elements been taken down a notch, maybe had more of a "as long as you're having fun" motto, Sey's experience would have been different. I know this because I had three of the extremes in place but the fourth - my parents - recognized the storm brewing and quickly changed the course of the ship. Like Sey, I was seeking perfection in everything I did - if I wasn't the number one student, front and center at the recital, the fastest runner, your BEST friend - I was a loser. If you were off cue during a performance, I would push you out of my way. When all the neighbor kids were stuffing their faces with candy on Halloween, I was separating, counting and graphing my stash and comparing the findings to last year's data. I had started gymnastics at eight years-old and by 10, I was one week into classes four days-a-week when my parents pulled the plug on gymnastics. I don't have any memory of my parents saying we wouldn't go to the gym anymore so I can only assume when they said so it must have been a relief. I can remember my mom comforting me as I cried myself to sleep - worried that my teacher would hate me because I got one wrong on a test. I remember my parents always telling me to relax, not to worry, you're taking it too seriously. Maybe seeing my behavior juxtaposed with my sister's (18 mos. younger) highlighted to my parents that I needed to be monitored - make sure I didn't get into anything to the extreme. They, like many other parents at the gym, were told I was "the next Mary Lou Retton." The coaches knew I was highly competitive and would coax me into attempting new stunts with a seemingly innocent "come on, you're not going to let Tara show you up, are you?" Maybe I wasn't as good as Sey at hiding my behavior from my parents? Maybe having a sister close in age made my behavior stand out as unhealthy? Maybe my parents weren't willing to pass up dinner at the table with family? Even for those who did not compete in the sport of gymnastics or have a ch

a sad but brutally honest look at women's elite gymnastics

I didn't get into gymnastics until 1996, so I was unfamiliar with Jennifer Sey until I read this book. After reading it, however, I felt like I could really empathize with her, as well as her family and teammates (it was harder to empathize with the coaches, I admit). On the surface, it may seem like this book is a scandalous expose, and I have no doubt that many people will read it as such. But to me, it was a coming-of-age story about a girl who got swept up in a subculture that, unfortunately, tends to lead to disordered thinking about pressure, body image, injury, and "normal" life. Jennifer Sey does a great job in this book of explaining all the factors that led to her success in gymnastics, as well as her ultimate downfall -- the need for achievement, need to please, competitiveness, and perfectionism. She's fair when it comes to explaining her parents' or coaches' roles, while at the same time taking responsibility for what was her dream. For me, this was an incredibly thought-provoking book. Not only is it an interesting subject, but the prose is fluid and powerful, helping the reader get into the mindset of an elite gymnast who is training on a broken ankle, competing on the world stage, and lost in a lonely world where being a gymnast is her only identity. This book is about gymnastics on the surface, but really it has a lot more depth. It's about a relationship of a daughter with her mother, and the sacrifices a parent will make for her child's dream -- even long after the daughter stops wanting it. It's about a child's need to find something that defines her, even if it swallows her whole. It's about the choices we must make when something that we're good at or used to enjoy stops being fun, or stops being a place where we can shine. It's about a woman struggling to become comfortable in her own skin after her body and her mind force her out of the only identity she's known. This was a beautiful, moving book. I would recommend it to anyone.
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