Video of UCLA gymnast Katelyn Ohashi scoring perfect 10’s across the board during a college competition last weekend has been watched millions of times on YouTube — not only for the gymnast’s technical brilliance, but her unabashed enjoyment of her own performance. But in an interview with Reuters, the star gymnast revealed that body-shaming over her weight had once left her “broken” and unable to compete due to anxiety and self-consciousness.
Ohashi, 21, became one of only a few gymnasts to ever defeat Simone Biles in competition when she won the American Cup in 2013, but her own Olympics dream was derailed by injuries. As she tried to recoup from injury, criticism, especially over her weight, crushed her sense of self-worth and left her ashamed and humiliated.
“I hated myself,” she acknowledged.
To move forward, she said, she learned a lesson that she now hopes to share with others herself: that “people can use their voice and tell their own truth and … empower other people along the way.” Ohashi, who majors in gender studies, told Reuters that she plans on beginning work with domestic violence victims after graduation — ideally by “creating a safehouse and starting a program that can help people recover and find the best mental help and stability.” She is also working to publish a poetry collection that includes her deeply personal reflections on the body shaming she endured in a sport that is notorious for causing eating disorders in young girls.
“Because I am my own size,” one poem reads, “no words or judgemental stares will make me compromise.”
Gymnastics, Ohashi has said, is also a means for her to help spread a message of “joy.”
“Performing is my favorite thing,” Ohashi told The New York Times, following the viral popularity of her routine. “What you see is how I feel.”
Soon after she graduates from the University of California, Los Angeles, in June, her ambition is to appear on Dancing With the Stars.
Competing at UCLA, she told The Times, had reinvigorated her love of the sport. Last season, Ohashi finished the college regular season ranked No. 1 in floor exercise. Her excellence, and newfound celebrity, has earned her praise and accolades from all corners — including from Senator Kamala Harris of California.
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) January 13, 2019
This isn’t the first time a UCLA gymnast has managed to garner national attention for her dance moves. Three years ago, a one-time teammate of Ohashi’s, Sophina DeJesus, went viral online with a routine that featured the whip, the nae nae, and a similarly enthusiastic squad of cheering teammates.
Watch Ohashi’s joyful performance below: