Former UCLA gymnastics star Katelyn Ohashi relishes her current, quieter life
The moments of joy are simpler now. Katelyn Ohashi finds them not in a perfectly stuck landing or a crowd’s roar for a flawless routine, but in a quieter existence.
Three years after the viral sensation and All-American gymnast’s graduation from UCLA, life became mornings with beloved cats Bonnie, Clyde and Silky. Life became a board under her feet instead of a mat, taking up skating, soaking in the Venice sun while cruising down the strand.
She hasn’t lost the beaming smile that punctuated viral UCLA routines. That joy was genuine, too. But the separation has helped Ohashi feel freer of a tearful past.
“When I was doing gymnastics, I feel like your whole identity gets wrapped up with what you’re doing,” Ohashi told The Times. “Every athlete goes through a phase where it feels like they are their sport.”
And stepping back, finding herself, has allowed Ohashi to accept it all — the pain, the person she was, the person she became.
The routine with more than 44 million views on the UCLA gymnastics Twitter account comes up the most often.
“Most people are like, ‘Let me see that, let me see that.’ ” Ohashi mimicked with a grin.
UCLA has named Janelle McDonald its new gymnastics coach. McDonald takes over for Chris Waller, who resigned last month.
She widened eyes and captured hearts in January 2019, intersecting back handsprings with shimmies to R&B and pop music, a grin shining the entire way through en route to scoring a perfect 10.
But Ohashi, too, looks back at the old footage of routines from her pre-college, elite competition days. She looks angry, people tell her. Sad. She watches and feels herself in those moments wincing in pain, battling through physical injuries that were “more of a mental burnout,” Ohashi said during a panel at the LA 84 Play Equity Summit in Los Angeles on Tuesday.
Ohashi has frequently used her platform — now with more than one million Instagram followers — to explore the effect of body-shaming she endured in her early years of competition. It’s strange for her to see that version of herself now, the one who broke down crying in the car after winning one of her biggest competitions.
“What’s wrong with you?” Ohashi recalled her mother saying then. “You just won.”
A month after a 16-year-old Ohashi won the American Cup in 2013, she had shoulder surgery, beginning a recovery process that took two years. In that period, her first step away from competing, she had to learn to look in the mirror and accept herself for who she was, she said.
When asked what has changed since then, she sighed.
“I would tell my younger self to stand up for myself more,” she told The Times. “I think that’s something I’m still learning. Like, how to even know what I’m feeling when I’m feeling it, and being able to vocalize that.”
Gymnastics aren’t fully gone for Ohashi.
In 2021, Ohashi performed in Simone Biles’ “Gold Over America” tour. It gave her a chance to flip the switch back to a performer — and it was something she realized she missed.
“Coming back, I’m like, ‘Oh, man … This is what I fell in love with within gymnastics,’ ” Ohashi said.
But she’s also focused on other ventures. During the pandemic, Ohashi often turned to poetry. Every week, she and her friends would gather via Zoom, during which they’d share their writing.
Her biggest venture is an animated short that she wrote from her poetry, a planned six-to-10-minute film that Ohashi is trying to fundraise for. The project, which she plans to direct, will center on her life, gymnastics, mental health, body image and family dynamic.
More than 175 current and former gymnasts and parents are expressing support for former UCLA coach Chris Waller in a statement provided to the L.A. Times.
“Hopefully this will be the thing that pushes me — more than an athlete,” Ohashi said.
Gymnastics, she has accepted, is not forever.
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