sustaining numerous injuries, gymnast Chellsie Memmel is one
of the most decorated female gymnasts in United States
Brett Favre will always be the first
athlete who sports fans in Wisconsin think of when the subject turns
Favre may be the gold standard, but
West Allis Olympic gymnast Chellsie Memmel is not far behind. Memmel,
5-foot-2, 119 pounds, is grittier than the cheapest of breakfast
"Iíve seen everyone from high
school athletes to professional athletes," says Cheryl Timmer, a
physical therapist at Spinal Dynamics of Wisconsin who has worked with
Memmel for 10 years. "She is hands down the toughest, most
dedicated, resilient athlete there is."
Gymnastics is a sport in which the
bodies are small but the impact to those bodies is blunt.
"Some people donít really
believe itís a sport, but I try to explain to them itís not
something you can just do," says Memmel, 20. "You can pick
up a football and throw it, but in gymnastics you have to practice to
learn a skill. You put your body through so much."
Memmelís toughness was on full
display in the lead-up to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. On Aug.
3, Memmel suffered a major setback when she injured her right ankle
during a training exercise. She immediately knew something was wrong
ó it was just a matter of finding out how badly she was hurt.
The news was worse than she had feared.
It was a broken bone, not just a sprain. Memmel immediately had dťjŗ
vu. After all, she figured to be a key member of the 2004 Olympic
team, only to lose her spot when she broke a bone in her foot. She
ended up as an alternate.
"I took 30 minutes to break down,
but Iíve learned from my parents (both gymnastics coaches) that
concentrating on the negative will get you nowhere," Memmel says.
When it was determined she could do no
further damage by competing, Memmel channeled her energy into the
uneven bars. Since all the skills for this event are in the air except
for the dismount, this would put the least amount of strain on her
During the team finals, she managed to
perform a clean routine, helping the United States Gymnastics team win
a silver medal.
"I was only doing one event and it
was the most nervous Iíve ever been," Memmel says. "Iím
most proud that I was able to do my job and help the team. I will
always remember (the feeling) of standing together on the podium and
getting a silver medal. I loved being there and representing my
As she was on the medal stand, she
flashed back to all the obstacles she had overcome to be near the
pinnacle of her sport. In 2001, she missed most of the year with a
torn hamstring. In 2004 she broke her left foot and in 2006 she tore
her rotator cuff and labrum.
Thanks to her mental toughness,
dedication and zeal for gymnastics, Memmel was able to recover from
all her injuries. Despite all the time she was sidelined, her total of
seven World and Olympic medals is the fourth most in U.S. female
In 2005, Memmel became the third
American woman to win the All-Around at the World Championship. The
next year, famed American coach Marta Karolyi told International
Gymnast Magazine that Memmel was "most likely the best competitor
Iíve seen in my 35 years of coaching."
Memmel says balancing short- and
long-term goals helps her recover from injuries. For instance, at the
start of the rehabilitation process she has to exercise patience.
"I make short term and weekly goals (specific) to my
training," she says. When she would get discouraged, thatís
when she focused on the big picture. "On hard days I would
remember what I was working for," she says. "My goal of
making the Olympics pulled me through. It was about the adrenaline and
love of competition. I wanted to be there to represent my
Memmel also maximizes her
rehabilitation by always trying her best. "In 10 years, I can
count on one hand the times sheís had a down day," Timmer says.