August 7, 2012
Oksana Chusovitina Kept Competing to Save Her Son
Our Olympic intake is going to be a challenge now that school has started. We watched it constantly all last week. It’s so wonderful to watch excellence unfold on screen, seemingly effortlessly. Those athletes make hard maneuvers look easy! I’m sure it’s not that what they are doing is easy, but that they have practiced so long and hard that it is easier for them to do than the average person. Now we will have to go to bed on time and miss so many performances.
I wanted to tell a cool story today of an Olympic athlete who saved a life. That qualifies her as an Olympic Hero! Her name is Oksana Chusovitina. She saved the life of her son by competing in the Olympic games!
That sounds really strange but it’s true. Oksana started competing in gymnastics in her native United Socialist Soviet Republic, or USSR, when she was a young girl. She was a key member of the Soviet team, winning every event except one in the 1990 World Sports Fair in Japan. Her first Olympics were the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, where she won a gold medal in the team competition.
After the Olympics ended, she returned home to Uzbekistan, her home country. The USSR had disbanded and each of her teammates would now compete for their individual countries. The gymnastic equipment that Uzbekistan furnished for the gold-medal athlete was old and often unsafe. Oksana persisted, preparing world-class routines anyway. She competed in her second Olympic games at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, this time for the country of Uzbekistan.
Competing in two Olympics usually heralds the end of a gymnast’s career. Oksana was 21 years old, considered by most coaches ‘too old’ to perform at champion levels. Plus Oksana married a fellow Olympic athlete—a wrestler—in 1997. They welcomed a baby boy Alisher into their family in 1999.
Something drove Oksana to continue to compete in her sport. Going back into the gym, she spent the 9 months following Alisher’s birth preparing for the 2000 Olympic games in Sydney. She qualified to make the team, but didn’t medal in the Olympics. That she made the Uzbekistani team is pretty impressive in itself, after having just become a mother!
When Alisher was just 3 years old, he was diagnosed with Leukemia. This was a huge blow to Oksana, who knew that the Uzbekistani medical system couldn’t treat him adequately to save his life. They just didn’t have the medical facilities or technology to cure him. She looked for help as she toured with her Uzbekistani gymnastic team, eventually finding allies in Germany. A couple, Shanna and Peter Bruggeman, coaches of the Cologne German team, offered to help. Fundraisers within the international gymnastic community chipped in to help pay for Alisher’s treatment. Oksana and her family moved to Cologne, Germany and Alisher began receiving treatments there.
Gratefully, Oksana trained with her new teammates and coaches on the Cologne German gymnastic team. She put her gymnast prize money toward Alisher’s treatments. But she continued to represent the country of Uzbekistan at international competitions, due to residency rules. In 2003 she won Gold at the World Championships in Anaheim on the vault. That was amazing because by now she was just shy of 30 years old!
In the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Oksana again competed for the country of Uzbekistan. She was the strongest member of the Uzbekistani team, earning more than 70 medals in the various international competitions in which she competed. But now her heart was intertwined with Germany. She longed to compete for the country that was helping cure her son. Oksana kept competing, paying the bills and hoping for a chance to pay back Germany by representing them in an Olympics.
After establishing her residency in Germany, Oksana was able to compete for Germany in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. She won the Silver medal in the Vault, bringing honor to her adopted country, although she was now an ancient 33 years old! “I don’t know how to thank everyone for all their help,” she said, tearfully. “Now Alisher is in school and he is doing fine, but we couldn’t have done that alone. I compete for those people.”
After considering retirement, Oksana reversed course and again made the German Olympic team to compete in the 2012 Olympic games going on right now in London. On Sunday, she came in 5th in the vault, at the age of 37 in her 6th appearance in the Olympics!
One author wrote, “How she is still vaulting so well after so many years of competition is particularly amazing when you consider all the impact that happens to the body in an elite vault. To complete a double-twisting Yurchenko, Chusovitina must sprint down the runway, do a roundoff onto the spring board, a back handspring onto the vault, then twist twice in the air while completing a flip. My knees, shoulders and ankles ache just thinking about it, and I'm four years her junior.” And that doesn’t even capture the impact on the body upon landing!
Oksana stayed with gymnastics so long to save her son. She needed the funding from prize money to support his treatment, so she had to stay competitively sharp in her sport too. When others would have quit because that brutal training was too hard, Oksana kept at it. She’s excelled in the sport for so long that gymnastic moves are named after her. Gymnasts around the world admire her for her tenacity and multiple decade’s long consistent excellence.
I love this story because it shows so plainly how much mothers love their kids. Most 37 year old women don’t wear leotards in public, forget doing somersaults and crazy acrobatics in them. But Oksana kept competing to save her son. Hopefully she can now take a break and coach instead!
“Oksana Chusovitina.” Wikipedia Web. 6 Aug 2012.
“Last call? 37-year-old Gymnast Oksana Chusovitina of Germany Prepping for Sixth Olympics.” Washington Post.com 26
Macur, Juliet. “At 33, Gymnast Repays Help for Her Ill Son With a Silver.” New York Times.com 17 Aug 2008: n. pag. Web. 6 Aug 2012.
Hendricks, Maggie. “Inspirational Moment: Oksana Chusovitina Takes 5th in Final Vault.” Yahoo Sports Fourth Place Medal 5 Aug 2012: n. pag. Web. 6 Aug 2012.