Every time I sit down to write this, I’m distracted by my Instagram feed, or a group text, or my dog, who insists on curling up in my lap with his head in the crook of my elbow (not great for typing). It’s hard to focus with the ever-changing, ever-maddening news. I can’t even get it together to plan a proper vacation, even though I find myself sedentary on my couch most weekend days.
—And Ella Donald introduces us to gymnast Katelyn Ohashi, whose phenomenal floor routine to a medley of Michael Jackson hits will have you questioning why you ever quit the sport (or is that just me?).
Hope you find some time to savor something good this week — however big or small.
Two thousand eleven was a year of nonstop high points in my life. My creative dreams came true when I filmed a little indie movie I co-wrote about friendship and phone sex called For a Good Time, Call … My romantic dreams came true when I married the love of my life at a beautiful wedding surrounded by our friends and family. And then my professional dreams exploded with magical confetti when we sold our tiny, candy-colored, female-driven comedy to Focus Features after it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. So many moments I had dreamed about for years were actually happening.
It was the happiest time of my life!
Except that it also wasn’t. It was actually kind of the worst.
This was around five years into my mom’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. Up until that point, her disease had been in the early stages. Her symptoms manifested in the repeated stories she told, occasionally slurred or confused speech, and a serious attachment to my dad. But Alzheimer’s is like a train that can’t be stopped once it leaves the station. And although these early days were really scary, they were nothing compared to what happened as the disease barreled through my mom’s once vibrant and beautiful mind.
She lived in Florida, and I was all the way across the country in Los Angeles. When she was first diagnosed, she told me I wasn’t allowed to move back to Florida to be with her. She wanted me to live my life — one that she had worked so hard to support. She was selfless like that. It was more important to her that I pursue my dreams, my relationship, and my own life as an independent woman than to have me close while she was disappearing piece by piece.
I visited Florida as often as I could, and, in the first few years of her disease, she and my dad visited me in LA. In 2007, they came out for the premiere of Knocked Up — a huge celebration for my then-boyfriend, as it was his first starring role in a movie. We had a barbecue for friends and family at our house the day before the premiere, and while it was a delicious taco, rib, mac-’n’-cheese extravaganza, what I remember is having to show my mom where the silverware drawer was a dozen times. She also kept adding turkey to the vegetarian chili and I had to keep taking it out. I remember my sister-in-law asking if my mom was OK, and I remember telling her “she’s not.”
As the years went by, she got worse. When we were making For A Good Time, Call…, I wanted my parents to come to Los Angeles to visit the set of the movie I had worked so hard to put together. But my mom had started wandering off and having bathroom issues — this reality was enough to keep them home. It devastated my movie-buff dad (who had a closet full of 500-plus VHS tapes of all the greatest hits) that he couldn’t visit the set of his daughter’s first film, which his son was also executive producing. And it devastated me that I couldn’t show my mom that I was actually doing what she wanted — I was living my life. But there was no time to be sad about it; there was a pink phone ringing and I had to answer it with a smile because the cameras were rolling and I was literally living my dream! Or so I told myself.
The night before my wedding, at the rehearsal dinner, my mom told me, “I just want to go home. I don’t want to be here.” I knew it was because she didn’t know where she was. The pain of knowing that she didn’t know she was at my wedding was like that Alzheimer’s train plowing right through my heart.
I brought my new husband and his parents to Florida for Thanksgiving that year — we went to Disney World. I showed them where I was a cheerleader for my awesome high-school football team (go Dreadnaughts!) and made them eat a Publix sub sandwich, my favorite hometown food. We also witnessed my mom pacing the house endlessly, not making much sense with her words, and mistaking the floor for a toilet. It was not quite the way I envisioned introducing my in-laws to the home I grew up in.
Although things were finally happening in my career in a way I had dreamed about for years — I was going on auditions, having meetings with producers about writing exciting scripts, and traveling around as my little-movie-that-could was released in actual theaters — my outlook on life was growing darker and darker with each passing day. Every person I saw run a stop sign was responsible for ruining the world. If I heard someone say something I didn’t agree with, it meant everyone was stupid and there was no hope for humanity. And most of all, I was convinced that the whole concept of life was just utter shit if this is what happened to the greatest woman I’ve ever known, a woman who had lived her life giving so much to so many.
Once my stress resulted in silver-dollar-size bacne, three (minor) car accidents in four months, and general life-rage that was bordering on getting out of control, it seemed like the right time to talk to a professional.
My new therapist listened, she gave me tissues, she told me it was OK to feel all the pain I was feeling. She let me go on and on to her about how life was just so unfair. And she didn’t even make me feel ungrateful for discounting all the legitimately amazing stuff in my life, because the agony I was in needed attention.
But eventually, she started to suggest that perhaps not everything was totally awful. Maybe there were a few good things in my life. Like, maybe my wonderful husband? Or my generous and awesome friends? Or even my career that felt like it was finally happening?
“Nope!” I insisted. “None of those things matter because everyone is dumb and there’s no point to any of this, and it’s all just a cycle of sadness and devastation, yadda, yadda, negative, negative, fuck, ahhhh! …”
As it always does, time passed. My parents moved to Los Angeles, and I got a front-row seat to my mom’s decline. She was now fully incontinent, had stopped walking, and had essentially stopped communicating. Having her close felt good, but seeing her become a shell of who she used to be was draining. When I wasn’t at her house, life continued as it normally did for me — spending my days alone, writing about and ruminating on my anger, spending my evenings and weekends laughing with friends over good food, and occasionally attending premieres for my (very fortunate and hard-working) husband’s movies. My therapist kept insisting that “in life, there can be good and there can be bad, and, in fact, they can coexist.” Even though I was living it, I refused to believe her.
Until eventually, I did.
In the fall of 2012, I started writing a screenplay about a woman who is left at the altar and ends up going on what would have been her honeymoon cruise with her estranged father. Obviously, this story has nothing to do with my real life (you just read about my wedding and my awesome dad), but I was drawn to the idea of a female character whose life doesn’t go the way she wants it to but who finds a way through the pain. It took me almost two years to finish a full draft, in part because I was still finding my own way through the pain. But when I did finish, I realized had written a story about a woman whose life has been seriously rocked, and, through her journey to get to the other side of her sadness, she experiences laughter, friendship, and adventure, as well as heartache, anger, and struggle for acceptance. Just like me.
I recently started thinking of my life as a dramedy. It’s full of jokes about penises, people comically falling, and moments of pure love and joy. It’s also full of pain, loss, and real anger. Ups and downs, highs and lows. But somewhere along the way, through my work in therapy, through talking about what I had been going through with my mom, through creating Hilarity for Charity, through writing, through living through my pain, I began to let in some of the good with the bad. To understand that it’s OK to feel both sad when I leave my mom’s house and excited about the dinner with friends I’m going to that night. That perhaps the point of life is to appreciate both the happy moments and the sad moments together. That they give each other meaning. That we have to have both, that we all have both, that experiencing both is actually OK. And if we need to spend a little time in the sad lane, the happy lane really can still run alongside it, if we allow it to.
Lauren Miller Rogen is a filmmaker and Alzheimer’s advocate living in Los Angeles. Her directorial debut,Like Father, which she also wrote and produced, launches globally on Netflix on Friday, August 3.
Of all the racial anxieties that plagued me throughout my half-Jewish, half-black childhood, few could compete with the stresses I experienced around lotion.
Most white people think of lotion merely as a way to occasionally hydrate your skin. But for black folks, it’s a necessity, a must-have, and practically a way of life. Lotion is something to be pumped out, distributed, and endlessly lathered. It must always be on hand and ready for action. It takes up an entire aisle at the drugstore and best bought in bulk and bounty. But mostly, lotion is the first line of defense against ash.
Ash, in short, is the layer of dead dry-skin cells that build up on everyone’s arms and legs, especially in summer. White people would simply call it “dry skin” — or maybe “dead skin,” if they’re feeling particular. The problem is that dead skin is actually very, very chalk white. For the fair-skinned, this can create a nuisance after a spell at the beach or a session in a tanning salon. But for black people, dead skin collects conspicuously on their limbs like ash — dusky, dusty, and begging to be removed.
And that’s where the lotion comes in. Because nothing suggests self-neglect like ashy skin. It’s a sign of classlessness that transcends age, sex, and location, though centuries of colorism ensure that the lightest-skinned black folks typically have the most access to wealth — and least ash!
When I lived in Harlem, I’d hear young kids fret about ash; my suburban uncle demanded it be destroyed; those bougie black woman on The Real Housewives of Potomac, I’m sure, would rather leave home without their wigs than be caught with ashy skin; author Danzy Senna wrote extensively about ash and lotion in her landmark novel Caucasia; and Gabrielle Union recently tweeted about her battles with the fancy-yet-tiny hotel lotion bottles meant to soothe ashy skin.
Ashiness is just one more burden that comes with blackness — like racism and poor customer service. Ashiness is real; #BlackSkinMatters. So lotion is applied, almost religiously, to darker skin to combat ash at the source. Find a bunch of black people in the sun (or at the office), and there’s certain to be a few mini-tubes of Nivea or Eucerin — the brand even cleverly added the word “ashy” to their labels — among them.
The problem for me is, because my skin is the color of caramel Frappuccino, I was never dark enough to truly get ashy. Some people might consider this a blessing — one less step in my highly negligent daily skin-care routine. But it actually only further isolated me from the black folks around me. The feeling was most acute at summer camp, which I fanatically attended in heavily wooded areas across northern California for most of my childhood. My strongest allegiance was to Camp Mendocino, which — as the name suggests — was set in Mendocino County, where the marijuana grew tall and the redwoods taller.
The camp was operated by the Boys & Girls Club of San Francisco and drew a motley crew of poor black and brown kids from the inner city, working-class whites from the South Bay, mildly accented Chicanos from the Mission District, and mixed-multi types like myself. I was usually the only Jew, and, this being Northern California, it was mostly viewed with indifference or as something exotic, like, say, homeopathy or vegetarianism.
Most of the camp counselors were black and typically came heavily armed with vast supplies of lotion (along with other era must-haves, like Rick James mixtapes and spray bottles of “activator”). Each afternoon, after shower time and before flag-raising, the black campers would line up to be lathered while their elders instilled in them the importance of proper skin care and moisturizing. It made for a curious, if not comedic, scene; these muscly, tracksuit-wearing brothers talking up amateur dermatology to their younger — and worryingly — ashier selves.
And then there was me. Left on the sidelines, yet again denied doses of much-needed male bonding along with a soothing coat of Palmolive. “You too light-skinned,” the counselors would say, “you ain’t got no ash.” And, defeated, I generally agreed.
Yet while I wasn’t exactly dark-skinned enough at Camp Mendocino, I often was at Camp Swig, which was nestled in the Santa Cruz Mountains about 90 minutes south of San Francisco. The camp was run by NFTY, one of the endless Jewish “federations” that operate similarly styled summer retreats across the world.
At Camp Swig, most of the kids were not black. In fact, besides my sister and me, none of them were. I remember a Korean kid who was conspicuously adopted by a Jewish family and formed, with us, the campwide melanin troika. Most of the kids were rich, including many who arrived from exotic-sounding Southern California locales such as Beverly Hills and Bel Air and spoke of their fathers who worked in “talent” and at “studios.” They were all thin and preppy and two-parented. And most would receive regular care packages of cookies and candy and other indulgences forbidden to fat kids like myself.
These were the days before nut allergies, and organic food, and gluten-free everything. So the care packages — usually meticulously wrapped and near hermetically sealed by mothers who, unlike mine, mothered for a living — would remind me yet again of the low rung I inhabited on the playing field of life.
But no matter.
The truth is, despite my Afro and brown skin and fat butt, I was surprisingly popular (though not enough to escape being called nigger, but let’s leave that for later). This was already a few years after my grandmother had made us Jewish, and I was well into the whole Moses and Abraham and Esther thing. And at Camp Swig, we were surrounded by it 24-7. The setup was in many ways quite similar to Camp Mendocino, though it was clearly intended for junior one-percenters. The cabins, for instance, had actual windows; the food was more hummus and schnitzel than roast beef and sloppy joes. And talent night involved Hebrew versions of Snoopy and improvised takes on Exodus rather than amateur rap crews and synchronized break-dance squads.
Yet even here — in the land where ashy skin never lay — there was lotion. In this case, it was suntan rather than moisturizing lotion. Vast vats of Coppertone and Banana Boat and Hawaiian Tropic. There were tubes and bottles and little sample packs, all neatly numbered by SPF degree to signify strength and seriousness and importance.
Being brown and growing up in the perpetual gray of San Francisco, I’d never really thought much of the sun — neither its tanning powers nor the multibillion-dollar consumer-products industry devoted to preventing its damaging rays. Yet clearly everyone else had, particularly the campers and counselors at Camp Swig.
And so once again, before swim time or playtime or really any time, lines would form, tubes would materialize, and the lotion ritualizing would begin. There was no place for me in these rituals either, however, because I was “too dark” to need suntan lotion. Or so I was repeatedly told. And much like at Camp Mendocino — where I was too light-skinned to get ashy — at Camp Swig, I faced the opposite conundrum: I was too dark to fully fit in.
I simply couldn’t win. So I would stand to the side, my skin naked and cracking, wondering what it would take for me to ever enjoy such topical pleasures. Years later, I discovered that both camps were wrong: when I failed to apply suntan lotion, my skin baked and died and scaled on my limbs to form a fine layer of (YES!) ash that begged for that slathering of Eucerin. Folks like me, it seems, can become ashy — so much so that there’s now an entire online world devoted to biracial kids and the battle against ash.
I even discovered on a trip to Cuba that I could — GASP! — sunburn, though all that early lotion-deprivation has meant I’m usually the last person to lather up. Eventually, I accepted my light-skinned fate, and during my years living in Tel Aviv, I would apply a constant layer of SPF 20 to my face. I also — like Union — regularly swipe fancy bottles of lotion from posh hotels to keep my occasional ash at bay.
And so today — long after I stopped attending summer camp, and now blessed with a pair of fair-skinned sons of my own — I wholly embrace my unique skin-care intersectionality and recognize the responsibilities that come with it. After all, if a deep-pocketed baller like Drake (who’s also a mixed-race Jew) can suffer from the ravages of negligent moisturizing, so can I. So can everyone! Which means we could all probably use a daily slather of both Coppertone and Eucerin — whether black, white, or a shade of Frappuccino.
I always swore that if I ever became a father, I would never deny my kids moisturizing or suntan lotion, that they would know the joys of both tanning controls and ash prevention. So far, both of my boys are lighter-skinned than I ever was, which means that ashiness is fairly unlikely. But I was told the same thing when I was a kid, and my home today looks like an aisle straight out of CVS.
David Kaufman is a writer and editor based in New York. He was formerly the global lifestyle editor at Quartz and editor in chief of Alexa, a lifestyle magazine from the New York Post. He lives in Manhattan with his husband and twin sons.
From the Silk Road, built by trading the work of Han Dynasty–era Chinese women, to the dawn of the industrial revolution, when women working spinning machines were the first people to toil in factories, women’s textile work has been work that has driven societies’ economic engines. Though the names of most of the women who did this work were never recorded, their labor has been critical, to not only the functioning of societies but also the course of history.
As I was writing a trilogy of books about Norway during the Viking age of exploration (ca. 793–1066 CE), I became interested in women who picked up swords and performed stereotypically male tasks and women who exercised their power from the more traditional position of wife and housekeeper. The popular image of Vikings is sword-wielding men, sailing forth to pillage and conquer. Their voyages did change the world, but they would not have been possible without the women making ships’ sails, warm garments, and cloth for trading.
The Viking Age began in 793 CE with the Viking attack on the monastery at Lindisfarne and ended in 1066 with the Norman conquest of England, when one Viking-founded kingdom, Normandy, conquered another, Anglo-Saxon and Danish England. During that time, Viking men and women traveled all over Europe and the North Atlantic, sailing as far west as North America, around the Mediterranean and to Constantinople, and through the Russian river system to Kiev. Their trade network was wide and even intersected with the Silk Road.
We have an image today of Viking women as warriors, fighting alongside their men, an image that owes more to propaganda than to history. While some women likely fought (as women have always done), Viking societies had fairly strict gender divisions, and the vast majority of women did not wield weapons.
Still, viewing Viking women as “simply” keeping house diminishes the importance of at-home activities. A housekeeper’s role in the Viking Age was more akin to managing a small company than keeping house today. At that time, households were small communities, comprising extended families along with the families of servants and slaves, and could contain over a hundred individuals. These households were self-contained economic units with dairies, smithies, and carpenters, which fed and clothed themselves, as well as making some goods for trade.
Women’s textile production was a vital part of their role, and instrumental in the economy and politics of the Viking Age. While Vikings’ success was enabled by the longship — an elegantly designed craft that could travel huge distances by oar and sail, penetrate river systems with its shallow draft, and attack and retreat quickly — that ship would not have had its awesome reach without the huge sail (measuring as much as 50 by 30 yards) that powered it. Trade, raiding, and settlement were the hallmarks of this time, but so was the weaving work done by armies of forgotten women.
The labor of turning dirty, matted sheep’s wool into cloth has been predominantly women’s labor in pre-industrial societies across the globe. It would take one woman three years of weaving to make the sail of a medium-size Viking ship — and that’s only the weaving; it doesn’t count the thousands of hours of processing sheep’s wool into the yarn that makes up the warp and weft of the fabric. Processing flax, which produces linen, is even more labor intensive (so much so that it could not be used for sail material). Estimates place the time needed for growing and processing the flax for one shirt at 400 hours.
Not only would Viking raids and exploration have been impossible without women’s labor (in addition to the sails, they created the clothes that protected sailors from the elements on long voyages), but also wool fabric they created became the chief export of the Viking Age and Medieval Iceland, putting the economy of the country into the hands of women. Wool cloth was used as currency, for taxes and tithes, and to buy foreign goods. It replaced silver currency, which had been gathered on sporadic, violent Viking raids. Now the currency was created by peaceful women’s weaving. Marriage agreements from Viking Age Iceland even set bride prices based on the amount of cloth the bride could produce in a year.
Viking Age Icelandic women also invented a type of shaggy wool coat that became very fashionable both at home and abroad. Because of its popularity and importance to Iceland’s economy, laws and standards were created to codify the size (and shagginess!) of the coats, in much the same way the French government now controls French wine. This ensured quality and fairness in trading and maintained the reputation of Icelandic craftswomen. The use of fabric as currency also led to the standardization of lengths in Iceland — after all, an ell of fabric, originally measured as the length from a man’s shoulder to his fingertips, needed to be the same everywhere, or a short-armed man would have an advantage in any trade.
The Viking Age is generally considered to have ended with the Norman Conquest in 1066, when William the Conqueror of Normandy invaded England. By this point, Scandinavian kingdoms were well-established countries that had entered the political world of Europe. The peoples who had once been Vikings — pagan raiders, traders, and explorers with little allegiance to a centralized authority — were now instead Christian soldiers and merchants.
William the Conqueror defeated King Harold and put all of England under Norman rule. The Bayeux Tapestry — actually an embroidery, not a tapestry — documents this in a piece of textile art, nearly 230 feet long and twenty inches tall, depicting major scenes from the events of the conquest. It is a work of historical documentation, propaganda, and artistic expression that was surely the result of women artisans’ crafts.
Though some women sponsors of the Bayeux Tapestry have been suggested, among them Queen Matilda, England’s first female monarch, most scholars believe that William’s brother Bishop Odo was the one who commissioned it. The Abbot of St. Augustine’s Abbey in Canterbury has been put forward as the most likely designer because of his previous position as head of the scriptorium, where illuminated manuscripts were created. However, there is little doubt that it was Norman gentlewomen, most of whom were trained since birth in embroidery and other fine textile arts, who did the physical work of embroidery and thus created one of the most famous and enduring historical artifacts of the Norman Conquest.
It is now common for history books to mention, briefly, the unsung work of women before moving on to political history centered around men’s violence. Still, it is worth remembering that work was not simply a support for the men in a society but one of that society’s vital engines. Viking women’s work has led to the foundation of countries and economies and created the most famous historical artifact of the Norman Conquest. Women’s work and history cannot be separated: the true history of women’s work is the history of work itself.
Linnea Hartsuyker is a writer living in the seacoast area of New Hampshire and the author of The Half-Drowned King and The Sea Queen, from HarperCollins.
You’ve probably seen Katelyn Ohashi. Back in April, the 21-year-old UCLA junior did double layouts to iconic Michael Jackson hooks all over Facebook feeds to an audience of nearly 100 million viewers. It starts with a cool glance to the audience from beneath an imaginary “Smooth Criminal” hat, before alternating mind-bending gymnastic moves with slick moonwalks and finishing with a “Thriller”-like cackle. She performed the routine at fifteen meets this season and got a perfect 10 three times, but it wasn't until the Pac-12 championships in March, which her college won for the eighteenth time, that the Internet really took notice.
I’ve gotten to see her perform since she was a teenager, winning national and international competitions as one of America’s most successful elite gymnasts, pegged for the Olympics at twelve years old. Yet there was a darker side to all the high scores and praise, one that came through the cracks of Ohashi’s intense focus and skill.
At age three, Ohashi started practicing gymnastics in her hometown of Seattle. However, to be able to become an elite gymnast, she needed to train at a place known for their Olympic champions, so at nine, she moved to Missouri with only her mother and the youngest of her three brothers. She attended Great American Gymnastics Experience (GAGE), a gym owned by head coach Al Fong, who in the ’80s was surrounded by controversy owing to a series of tragic athlete deaths (Christy Henrich from anorexia and Julissa Gomez after being paralyzed in a vault accident). When Ohashi finished tenth at her first elite nationals, at age twelve, she moved to Texas to attend World Olympic Gymnastics Academy (WOGA), also attended by Olympic gold medalists Madison Kocian, Nastia Liukin, and Carly Patterson. The gym was co-run by Nastia’s father, Valeri Liukin, who in 2006 was accused of failing to screen and supervise coaches.
It was at WOGA that Ohashi rose further up the ranks, winning competitions worldwide and being hailed as a prodigy. But she missed the age eligibility for the 2012 Olympics by mere months, meaning that she’d have to wait for another four years (until she was nineteen years old) before her first shot. In 2013, she won the American Cup, one of the biggest competitions in the world, at sixteen years old. Take one look at the videos from the meet, and you can see the commentators are ecstatic, in awe of the skills they’re witnessing. The girl atop the beam there is a world away from the one moonwalking to Michael Jackson.
The prevailing image of the ideal gymnasts is small, thin, and childlike, making it to the Olympics at barely sixteen years old before quickly disappearing. There’s a reason for this: they usually break under the unbearable pressure and unhealthy culture, both physically and mentally. Injuries ranging from ACL and rotator cuff tears to stress fractures are common.
In 2017, Ohashi started posting diary entries from her competing days in an effort to start a conversation around body image surrounding the sport. “I’m used to waking up to the taste of blood or iron in my mouth, as if I might almost throw up from being so hungry,” she wrote in June 2010, at age thirteen. “I am completely and utterly in disgust with myself,” she wrote in November 2013, at age sixteen. “By 2012, I probably had like three stress reactions in my back,” she tells me today. “Two stress fractures in my fibula. My back is permanently messed up. I’ve had two shoulder surgeries.”
Ohashi’s 2013 American Cup win at sixteen years old should have been a victory that signaled the beginning of a long and successful road to the Olympics; instead, it ended up being the last meet of her elite career. “My world has completely changed,” she wrote in her diary that month. But she was contemplating her exit before then. “Abusive, restricting,” Ohashi says when I ask her to describe the culture of elite gymnastics in a few words.
After her American Cup win, Ohashi underwent shoulder surgery and then back surgery in 2014. Ohashi was unsure if she’d be able to compete again, so she started to contemplate the future, with the goal of going to college and learning to enjoy gymnastics on her own terms. So she called up Valorie Kondos Field (known as Miss Val), the head coach at UCLA, one of the most popular collegiate gymnastics programs. Field, a former dancer, had no prior experience in gymnastics before being hired by the UCLA team in 1983. She is known for her refreshing approach to the sport, championing individualism and enjoyment over titles, and encouraging gymnasts to treat the beam and floor as a stage.
It’s a reputation that is indicative of the difference between elite and collegiate gymnastics, where athletes study full time, are allowed to train a maximum of twenty hours a week, and competition is more about healthy consistency than extreme difficulty. Ohashi joined the UCLA Bruins gymnastics team for the 2015–16 season.
For her, the transition was difficult. “It’s so weird being in college, because it’s like, you get to cheer for literally everyone, and you’re supposed to,” Ohashi says. “But I would get yelled at simply for cheering for Simone [Biles]. It was difficult because I think I finally had freedom, legit, actual freedom, for the first time.”
Since the trial of Larry Nassar — the former USA Gymnastics national-team doctor and convicted sexual abuser of over 250 young women and one young man — ended in January, there has been a conversation, thankfully the correct one, on how to ensure healthy environments for gymnasts. To quote Miss Val, “The sport’s not bad. It’s the people that were running the sport that were bad.” News outlets around the world have run stories exposing what happens behind closed doors. The entire board of USA Gymnastics resigned amid lawsuits brought by athletes like McKayla Maroney (Olympic medalist, 2012) who said the organization paid them to keep silent about abuse.
For UCLA’s February 4 meet against the University of Oklahoma, coaches Field and K.J. Kindler decided that something had to be done. With the help of their team, they put on Together We Rise, a ceremony held at the end of the meet where both coaches and athletes paid tribute to the bravery of the survivors telling their stories and pushing for change. When I ask Ohashi what it’s like to watch this movement after what she experienced, she says it’s a “huge step” to see the truth finally come to light. “College gymnastics is the reward we receive after years of abuse,” Ohashi wrote on Instagram in January. “It’s the time of discovery, healing, learning, growing, and having the time of our lives.”
The bassline of “The Way You Make Me Feel” thumped, as Ohashi took to the floor for the final time this season. On the sidelines, her team moonwalked along with her, Miss Val’s applause visible from across the room. The crowd cheered and clapped as she jumped, flipped, and turned effortlessly and exuberantly. “She takes us to a party,” one of the commentators said. Finishing with her always breathtaking split jump and cackle for the last time, she sprinted to her teammates, high-fiving them and disappearing into their loving embrace.
What’s different between now and then? “I’ve discovered things from being severely injured, to having gymnastics being taken away from me, and I realized this isn’t forever,” she says. “When I was in elite, [I was] living in black and white, whereas now I feel like I live more in full color.”
Ella Donald is a journalist, university teacher, and writer from Brisbane, Australia. She is a regular contributor to Australian GQ and has also written for Vanity Fair, The Guardian, Vice, and Glamour. You can find her on Twitter and her website.