I’m sure by now you’re familiar with the name Katelyn Ohashi. Or if you don’t know her name you’d probably recognize her face. Katelyn is the college gymnast and two-time viral sensation who wowed millions this past weekend with her jaw-dropping, perfect 10 floor routine.
You might even be familiar with Katelyn’s story. Once an Olympic hopeful, Ohashi retired from elite competition in 2015 following a series of serious physical injuries and extreme mental burnout.
What you may not know about this young phenom who has reclaimed her passion for competitive gymnastics at the collegiate level, however, is that at the age of 19 she was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, a chronic disease of the large intestine in which the lining of the colon becomes inflamed and develops tiny open sores, or ulcers. In her blog, Behind the Madness, Katelyn writes, “In a world where most people only speak about the ‘good,’ it can sometimes make you feel alone when you’re experiencing the ‘bad,’ abnormal, weird, and scary things within your natural body.”
At the age of 21 Ohashi has put into words the feelings I still struggle with even today as a middle-aged woman.
I too was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis when I was 19. I suffered so much of what she writes about: the “excruciating stomach pain,” the times when you’re “close to the restroom but not close enough,” the “confusion and silence” that surrounds this diagnosis.
I am in awe of what Katelyn has accomplished despite her illness, and all that she has been able to achieve in her young life. Not just her perfect scores, her heart-stopping routines or the medals she has racked up in her competitive career.
I am even more inspired by her willingness to share her story, to speak the truth about the “bad” even when it’s scary or embarrassing or hard to explain. In her blog Katelyn writes, “There is no normal, we just don’t talk about the abnormal.”
Katelyn says she has found her voice. And even though she is young enough to be my daughter, I think she has helped me find my voice as well.