Chellsie Memmel, a 2008 Olympic gymnast who retired in 2012, documented what she titled an Adult Gymnastics Journey the last 16 weeks on YouTube, but she felt nervous about uploading last Friday’s video.
That’s because of what she chose to include at the end, a short conversation with her father and coach, Andy, inside M&M Gymnastics, the family’s gym in New Berlin, Wis., just outside Milwaukee.
“OK, anything else you want to say,” Andy asked.
“Well, I guess it’s time to admit this is a comeback,” Memmel said.
What does that mean? Well, Memmel called U.S. women’s high-performance team coordinator Tom Forster in July to discuss just that.
The first step toward competing for the first time in eight years would be attending a camp, though the coronavirus pandemic put the sport on pause.
“It would be fun to make it to a competition,” Memmel, a 32-year-old mother of two, said by phone Sunday. “We haven’t set our sights on anything specific yet, but thinking about routines and formulating plans.”
Memmel isn’t yet speculating about the national championships or Olympics (in 2021, she will be older than any U.S. Olympic gymnast in 60 years), but said it would be cool to get another skill named after her.
She’s consistently working on a piked Arabian flip on the balance beam, which no woman has performed in international competition. If Memmel can do that, perhaps at a World Cup meet, it will be named after her, to go along with an eponymous skill she already has on floor exercise.
She went about seven years between doing skills on a four-foot-tall and four-inch-wide beam.
Memmel’s father said in a video posted June 11 that she was “95 percent in shape.”
“The dad in me is like, she’s crazy, why are we still doing this?” he said. “And the coach is going, it’s so easy, why are you not still doing this?”
By posting Friday’s video, Memmel hit a milestone in a process that began in late 2018.
“That just gives it more of a commitment,” Memmel said of the video, which had 38,000 views as of Monday morning. “I’m committed to doing gymnastics. I’m committed to training. Once you do that [say ‘comeback’], there’s a certain level of expectation. More just from me. Not from anybody else.”
It all started with “Chellsie Challenge” videos — also uploaded to her YouTube channel — of gymnastics-related exercises. She called that conditioning, one year after giving birth to her second child, daughter Audrielle.
By early 2019, Memmel, also a gymnastics coach to 18 girls ages 12 to 18 and a judge at all six of Simone Biles‘ national championships, began “playing around more” with gymnastics.
“I’m in shape. I like doing gymnastics. I like flipping. Let’s just see how it feels,” Memmel said. “I had done that hard part [conditioning], so why not reward myself with flipping again? Once I started doing that, it was that much more fun, and I looked forward to working out even more because I was doing gymnastics again.”
In her most recent video, Memmel trained in a mid-2000s era leotard (due to losing a bet).
Her first international splash came in 2003, winning the world title on uneven bars at age 15. She broke a bone in her left foot in April 2004 and petitioned into an Olympic selection camp, but ultimately traveled to the Athens Games as an alternate.
Memmel asked her dad to start coaching her for the 2008 Olympic cycle. She grabbed the 2005 World all-around title by .001 over Nastia Liukin, and in doing so won a bet with her father from the previous year. Andy bought her a silver Audi TT.
In 2006, Memmel qualified first into the world all-around final. But, between qualifying and individual events, she felt her right shoulder pop during a transition skill on bars in the team final. She finished the routine, withdrew from the meet and had surgery to repair a torn labrum and rotator cuff.
It took about two months to lift her arm over her head again. She didn’t fully return until 2008, taking third behind Shawn Johnson and Liukin at the national championships and Olympic Trials. In Beijing, Memmel broke a bone in her right ankle in training, limiting her to one apparatus, bars, in qualifying and the team final where the U.S. took silver.
Memmel didn’t quit.
She came back from two more shoulder surgeries in September 2011 and February 2012 to bid for the London Olympic team. She competed on one event at a tune-up meet, falling twice off the balance beam at the May 2012 U.S. Classic. Her petition to the U.S. Championships was controversially denied by USA Gymnastics. She retired later that year.
She was back at nationals in 2013, as a judge, and has been throughout the Biles era. She stayed close to the sport amid major life changes in her 20s — marriage to Kory Maier and the birth of son Dashel in 2015 and Audrielle in 2017.
Bars were Memmel’s trademark as a teenager. It’s been the toughest apparatus to get back this year. She’s exercising patience swinging on those shoulders.
“It took the longest to convince myself to try bars,” she said. “They [shoulders] feel really great now. I want them to stay that way.”
Memmel trains three days a week and is in the gym more than that, usually accompanied by her kids, who take gymnastics classes.
“When I started working out and taking time each week to do something that was just for me, it made me a happier person, and it made me a better mom,” she said. “Then, when I started doing gymnastics more, they can see that you can set goals and work hard for something and try to achieve something. I think that’s a really great message to send to your kids. Not just to tell them, but to actively show them.”
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