Katelyn Ohashi is the face of joyous defiance. The 21-year old American artistic gymnast from UCLA has honed her craft since she was a child. Burning with a singular passion, her meteoric rise through the world of gymnastics was truly a sight to behold, with her defeat of teammate (and literal superwoman) Simone Biles at the 2013 American Cup proving an illuminating look at a woman of immense talent and effort for whom the Olympics surely beckoned. Ohashi was on top of the world. Yet as is so often the case with women, and especially women of colour, the world did not give back as generously to them as they had to it.
The landscape of professional gymnastics is a cruel and unforgiving one, with athletes reaching their pinnacles often in their early teens before being forced to retire by injuries brought on by the punishing discipline and institutional pressure. This sport, which its practitioners live and breathe and love with every fibre of their being, ends up taking a permanent, punitive toll upon their bodies and minds. For Katelyn Ohashi, who struggled sometimes to get her natural physique to fully conform with the enforced skinny ideal of the female gymnast, this world proved doubly cruel. Despite her otherworldly skill and Herculean devotion, she was constantly made to feel intensely aware of the perceived shortcomings of her frame. Then, on top of that, disaster struck. Shortly after emerging victorious in 2013, Ohashi had to go undergo surgery on her shoulder. A back injury followed a year later. Ohashi retreated from the forefront of elite competition.
But Katelyn Ohashi is a goddamn warrior, and setbacks that would have toppled lesser men and women only served to allow her to de-pressurise, centre her focus, and to re-contextualise her place in the world of her sport. She relaxed, began competing at college level, and her being resonated with the joy of rediscovered passion. There is a lovely video on Ohashi’s journey over at The Players’ Tribune that is well worth your time.
Back in early 2018, footage of a Michael Jackson-inspired routine of Ohashi’s went viral and the internet fell in love with her. She is now back at it again, scoring a perfect 10 at the Collegiate Challenge in Anaheim over the weekend with a funky and stunning routine that has once again turned the internet into mirror images of her teammates in the clip, clapping along and moving in time with her infectious moves, buoyed up by the power of one woman’s passion. Take it away, Ms. Ohashi:
There are two parts of that video that just destroy me in their depiction of humanity. Two still frames in a display of perfect motion. They both centre on Ohashi’s face.
The first happens just as she launches into the run that leads up to her final, incredible, showstopping tumble. She has just danced her way into the far corner of the mat, slyly giving herself enough room for the feat that is to come, all the while projecting the most joyous energy, a broad and engaging, genuine smile on her face. Then, just as she takes off, all the processing power of that formidable brain latches onto the task ahead. The smile fades as all the years of training suddenly lock together to form a line, a perfect unbroken chain leading from past to present as everything around her fades away into stillness and silence. This, this is focus:
She executes a motion out of the reach of 99.9999999% of all humans who will ever live, she executes the impossible, perfectly, and it’s over. Then there is only joy, victory—inner and outer—and the unparalleled loveliness that is human solidarity:
Who the hell needs the MCU when superheroes already dance among us.
Header Image Source: YouTube