Prepare to be floored by this 41-year-old gymnast's story.
If you've been watching Olympics coverage from Rio, you probably feel inspired, amazed, and...old. Because let's face it; you aren't 17, or even 21 anymore. At least I'm not! And watching what these amazing young athletes can do with their bodies quite honestly makes my knees hurt. To be fair, some of these Olympians were born the year I graduated from high school.
And then there's Oksana Chusovitina, a 41-year-old gymnast competing for Uzbekistan. (In case you're wondering, yes, that's a record Her rivals include the likes of 19-year-old American gymnast Simone Biles, who is favored to take home several gold medals, and 22-year-old U.S team captain Aly Raisman, who has been nicknamed "Grandma Aly" by her younger teammates. Ironically, Chusovitina (who is competing in her seventh Olympics) is practically old enough to be Raisman's mom—and, in fact, she has a 16-year-old son named Alisher, who is the same age as U.S. team member Laurie Hernandez. Oh, and she won Olympic gold in 1992, before any of those U.S. team members were born!
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None of this really matters, though, because this decorated athlete's age is only one small thing about her. She has taken home two Olympic medals as well as countless other competition medals. And she's considered a real competitor at this year's games in Rio.
Retired gymnast Shawn Johnson told ESPN, "I would compare her career overall to how amazingly good Simone [Biles] is. Just like how people are assuming at this point Simone will win all-around gold in Rio, it's assumed every year Oksana will be there. And it's assumed every year she's going to medal." Johnson added, "No one even knows how old she is anymore because it seems like she's been to the last gazillion Olympics. She's incredible. She is a legend."
Chusovitina may be an honored athlete both in Uzbekistan and around the world, but it is the personal struggle as a mother she says has defined her most. Her son Alisher battled childhood leukemia, but is now cancer-free. Upon learning his treatment had been successful, she said, "Medals, no medals, it really doesn't matter when you hear this news. [No] medal could compare to this type of phone call. When your son is healthy, you can't compare any athletic achievements with that."
But all signs point to the fact that this is one competitor who still has a tremendous amount of drive to win. After finishing fifth on the vault in London in 2012, the soon-to-be 40-year-old reneged on her decision to retire, and began training for Rio. "That's literally what happened," she recalls, according to ESPN. "I said I retired, and the next day I woke up, and I was lying down in my bed and thinking 'I didn't accomplish everything I wanted to accomplish and I still feel I can do a little bit more.' And that's why I started training for my next Olympics because I still feel I can do more."
As former teammate and now coach Svetlana Boguinskaia says about the mom's chance to medal in Rio, "She probably can. Her first Olympic medal was a gold at the 1992 Olympics, and her second Olympic medal was at her fifth Olympics. It means she doesn't get worse, she gets better with age. And that's why she's still there competing."
We shall soon see what this amazing 41-year-old can do as she competes in the vault finals on August 14.
Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.