Thursday, August 21, 2008

Hooray for the 30-something mommy gymnast!

I, like many others, have been watching the Beijing Olympics here and there over the last 2 weeks, mostly following Michael Phelps, the teeny-tiny American gymnasts, and more recently the sprinting events (how I envy them!).

I'm a few days late in mentioning this particular head-turner, but I'm still thinking about the silver medalist in the women's vault competition, which took place Sunday. I was really touched by the story of Oksana Chusovitina, at first because of her endurance in a sport dominated by teenagers (and pre-teens, a-hem, China), but then struck by her personal triumph-over-tragedy story.

Chusovitina started competing at the age of 13 for then-USSR (she has been competing at the Olympic level for 20 years!), but when her young son was diagnosed with leukemia in 2002, she could not get treatment for him in Uzbekistan, so she reached out to international gymnastics contacts for help. A German coach heard her call and offered to help, so Chusovitina moved her family to Germany, where her son was treated, she became a German citizen, and now she competes under the German flag.

I am awed by the lengths this mama went to in order to save her son's life. The deep friendship between Chusovitina and her coach, Shanna Poliakova, was apparent on Sunday, too -- you could tell that they've weathered many a storm, and the medal was that much sweeter because of it. Best of all, her son is now in remission, and he was able to see his mother win a medal this week. That, to me, makes her a diamond-encrusted platinum medal winner.

(Mitch Album, who was a good sports writer before he became a cheesy book writer, wrote a nice piece about all this, too, if you want to read more.)

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