While the bulk of the responses that I’ve gotten to the book have been positive, ranging from empathetic to outright cheers (You’re brave. Thank goodness, finally!), there have been those that claim my depiction of the sport is not accurate. That it is filled with lies. There are even those who go so far as to assert that because I wasn’t a very good National Champ - perhaps even the worst ever (in the words of a few bloggers) – I am vengeful and antagonistic. They argue that my incompetence as a gymnast is evidence that the book is a retaliation, proof of my bitterness. I’ll concede, I wasn’t the best ever. Not sure that mediocre child champion = adult prevaricator. Seems like a tenuous connection.
I suppose I’ll just carry on saying what I’ve been saying: this is my story. Not an indictment of the sport. This was my personal experience, 20 years ago. Not drawing any conclusions that this is what everyone who participates in the sport experiences, now or back then.
What I find most distressing is people saying: releasing it now, before the Olympics, is bad for the sport. They don’t take issue with the content, per se, rather the timing. Vehement dissenters offer that the “marketing” of CHALKED UP – timing its release before the Olympics – is a ploy to optimize sales.
I wrote the book when it spilled forth, back in 2006. It’s just when it came out of me, after ‘cooking’ for over twenty years. There was no intent to time it for the Olympics which are every four years after all, so any book is pre or post Olympics, if you think about it. The fact is my kids were finally old enough that I was getting enough sleep to concentrate for extended periods of time. I wrote it when I wrote it; and I sold it when it sold. No control there. There is a standard delay of 12-18 months between when a book sells to a publisher and when it is released. That time allows for editing, typesetting, etc. That meant the release was going to be early 2008.
Thus, I take issue with the accusatory, finger-pointy “marketing!” claims.
And, it prompts me to ask: So you think marketing is opportunistic, huh, presenting facts in a manner intended to seduce the consumer? Sounds to me kind of like how gymnastics is marketed on television to secure ad revenue and attract new children to the sport. How only the cutest pixies bouncing happily and seemingly without effort are showcased. Viewers rarely, if ever, get to feast their eyes on those who ‘lose’, falling outside the top ranks; girls who plunge to the ground on their heads, faces, backs, bottoms, sometimes incurring unwatchable injuries. Eye-shielding falls are standard operating procedure in gymnastics as it is an incredibly dangerous sport. In football, we are exposed to the bone bashing, as it is somewhat palatable when it happens to big, scary, fully grown adult men. And because it is part of that sport's appeal, it is celebrated to an extent. But no one wants to see a broken-hearted, broken boned sprite sobbing in devastating disappointment or being removed from the competition floor on a stretcher.
Do objectors mean to suggest that my book is ‘marketed’ like gymnastics itself?
Rest assured, marketing or no marketing of this book, the sport will survive as it did after Kristy Heinrich’s death (and the attendant ‘bad PR’) and Joan Ryan’s LITTLE GIRLS IN PRETTY BOXES. Because most people that participate in the sport have positive experiences and most coaches have the best intentions. Just because that is so, does that mean I am ‘not allowed’ to share what wasn’t carefree and unspoiled about my personal experience? Just because most teachers are kind and giving and committed to providing an education to children, does that imply that if a teacher sexually abuses a student that that student shouldn’t speak up? Because it would hurt the education system? Prevent people from going to school?
The sport has a vast and enthusiastic fan base; they are passionate about gymnastics and offended by my story. But it doesn’t mean I made it up or falsely marketed it. And it doesn’t mean the sport will be irreparably harmed. Other sports have come under harsh criticism and flourished just the same. Football and baseball and ice skating. Each of these sports has been thrown into the spotlight for bad behavior (illegal dog fighting, steroid use, knee bashing) and has thrived. Blights on a sport often cause the community to turn introspective, to say, is there something here we need to examine?
When I broke my leg at World Championships, the rules changed soon thereafter, with the intent of keeping the girls safer. When a young gymnast by the name of Julissa Gomez fell on vault in warm up for competition and was rendered paralyzed (and later died from complications), the equipment was modified to accommodate new skills and protect the athletes from unnecessary injuries. These are good things. I’d hope that the community would ask themselves upon reading the book, do any of these conditions still exist and if so, what can we do about it?
Was I obligated to present both sides in a memoir? I don’t believe so. If I was writing a journalistic piece, then yes. But this is a story of personal experience. To suggest that I was morally obliged to illustrate that there are also good coaches with good intentions (which I do include, note: Lolo) would be to suggest that anyone who writes a book about growing up in middle class suburbia and becoming a drug addict must also present the case that some people from the ‘burbs don’t become drug addicts. Isn’t that obvious?