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Katelyn Ohashi and The Simple Art of Joy

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Katelyn Ohashi and The Simple Art of Joy

The former Olympic hopeful backflipped and tumbled her way into all of our hearts by doing something very simple. Having fun.

Estimated Reading Time: 8 Minutes

Between the Final Five and the USA’s dominance at recent Olympics there’s been a fair share of viral gymnastics videos in the last decade. However, there is now a new leader of the pack. Katelyn Ohashi recently captivated the world with her perfect 10 routine while competing in a college meet for UCLA. It wasn’t her first time accomplishing the feat. In fact she’s done it 5 times before.

While doing research on her rise to popularity something struck a particular chord with me. Hers is a story not unlike many of yours. Or mine. It’s a story of high expectations, of love lost, of burning out, and of what ultimately brings us back.

Set to a soundtrack of Tina Turner, Michael Jackson, & Earth, Wind, and Fire her high flying routine soared into the hearts of millions all over the country. The most basic explanation of how we all became “floored” by her is this…


It may seem overly simplistic to say but the way she won our collective hearts was to just have a good time doing something she loves. And it showed. The feeling of joy is infectious and that is exactly what she gave us in her most recent routine.

A Small Leap into Her Past

First of all, she’s ONLY 21!!! (Which for a gymnast is old but God that makes me feel really old.) Second of all she beat Simone Biles in the 2013 American Cup. Yeah you read that right. SHE BEAT SIMONE BILES. They might have only been teenagers but it still counts people. Fast forward to the 1:20 mark of the video where she literally bounces up from a full cooter slam that makes my (old) lady parts ache in pain.

Clearly at one point she was on the Olympic track. You can tell that just from watching the video. If you didn’t find yourself asking the question of why she isn’t or hasn’t been an Olympian then we didn’t watch the same video.

Sadly, a series of injuries and disillusionment with her long time passion de-railed her Olympic dreams. Like many of us who start out having a hobby that grows into something that we love doing and the pursue full time it becomes a full time job.

That’s When We Can Lose Touch.

This is where this piece might take a slight turn for some of you. Ohashi’s vehicle is gymnastics. Mine, as well as most of the team here at the Turfs, is theatre. I mean c’mon…have you ever read The Turf before? We made a case for casting Tom Brady in Hamilton!! I’m here to break it to you that sports are essentially theatre. They are performance and entertainment at its highest level.

Think about it…they both require a specific skill set to succeed, they are both (generally) played out in front of large groups of people, and they both aim to distract from and suspend our realities for a short amount of time.

Personally speaking, I fell into doing theatre as a kid. It was a random thing. I was 8 years old. At that point I definitely had no idea that I would eventually pursue a career in it. I was just hoping to be one of a hundred kids to get asked to stay for the second half of the day after reciting a brief poem and a few bars of a pre-chosen song and end up in the cast. I certainly had no idea that the little girl sitting on a cold folding chair in suburban Detroit was about to embark on a life long love affair with performing. Fast forward 15+ years to living and breathing the audition lifestyle. Full of 4am wakeup calls, standing in line in below zero or above 90 degree weather, and being crammed into small studios full of hundreds of people of the highest talent levels competing for a few coveted roles. It’s no wonder that you can get burnt out.

“Performing is my favorite thing,” Ohashi said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. “What you see is how I feel.”

Katelyn Ohashi

Dreams can change

Katelyn Ohashi certainly couldn’t have predicted that she would have career compromising injuries. Or that she would fall out-of-love with gymnastics. None of us could predict falling out of love with something that once gave us massive joy and a home away from home.

What I felt while watching that routine was so much joy. She radiated it. Her teammates felt it. They cheered it on. The crowd, the internet, and the world certainly felt it. That happens when you do something you love. She told a story in that routine and it was simply a story of joy. She found the fun of performing again.

In an appearance on Good Morning America she shared this poem of acceptance and self-love which feels like it speaks to all of us that struggle on any level. Joy and acceptance are often a long winding road full of unexpected twists and turns. What you come to find on that road is that you handle certain obstacles better and that each one prepares you to be able to brace the next one even better.

The good news is that we do find our way back. Eventually.

Although I personally haven’t performed on stage in years we find a way to tell our own stories. Hell, I bartend for a living right now and yes, in a certain way I perform every day, but it also gives me the opportunity to observe everyday life stories. It might not be the way I’ve always envisioned but in another way it’s the greatest gift a storyteller could get. Our stories may take on different shapes, but we tell them anyway. The common denominator here is that both sports and theatre are about entertainment and they both take us on emotional journeys. There’s something just as cathartic about a collective group shouting together when a wide receiver makes an incredible catch as when an entire auditorium sits in a moment of shared silence.

I recently saw “If Beale Street Could Talk”. It made me think a lot about why I moved to NYC. When I’m serving and bartending I often get asked why I came here. My standard answer has always been “I got a degree in musical theatre” to which they nod in a slight way of understanding. But after seeing that movie and certain Broadway shows recently (I’m looking at you too Once On This Island) I now realize that it’s about so much more than that. I think I moved here to end up as a storyteller.

In his much anticipated follow-up to Moonlight, Barry Jenkins proves once again that he is emerging as one of the greatest film storytellers of his generation. He shapes James Baldwins’ words into a deeply moving film about love in all of it’s many forms. Much like Ohashi’s performance the power of the story shines through because of the simplicity of the storytelling.

So, How Do We Get Back To Before?

I’ve recently started a journey back to finding my own joy of performing again. It’s not going to be an easy one or a smooth one (for various reasons) but when I think about the girl who pursued this career path in the first place, I think about the girl who was always out to prove a point. I might not have always been the most naturally talented but I had drive and heart. That’s why I know that I identified with Katelyn in this moment.

The last time I performed in public was in a 4 years ago. I hate watching and/or listening to myself so this takes a bit of courage to post honestly. But it’s one of the first steps in getting back to finding my own joy of performing again. It’s kind of like what RuPaul always says, “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell you gonna love someone else?!” (At least that’s what I’m telling myself as I put this in here.)

(Ok that wasn’t quite as painful as I thought it would be..)

As you may be able to tell, I am sort of a stubborn person. If I wasn’t would I still be trying to convince myself that this is worth fighting for? Part of it is that I’m convinced that I still have something to prove and something to say with my performing and storytelling. Watching Katelyn encouraged me to feel that maybe I too, could bounce back better than ever.

I am approaching my 1 year anniversary of joining The Turf Team and I think it’s been such a huge part of my journey back to finding my own personal joy. If you are here reading this you’ll hopefully understand why. We occupy a small corner of the world. We straddle that fine line of appreciating that there is a common thread between clapping after a tender moment of expression and the joyous eruption of a big play. Life is lived in those shared moments regardless of whether it’s in a theater or a stadium. The fun and interesting part of it is that none of us will tell exactly the same story or in the same way.

I’m sure that I wasn’t the only one who was affected by Katelyn’s breakout performance. If you have a passion for something in your life, in either an amateur or professional capacity, I challenge you to dig deep and try and re-connect with what made you love it in the first place. I’ll join you on that challenge by trying these three steps…

Simplify everything. Have Fun. Express Joy.

Is the part where I get thirsty and beg someone to hire me??

An actor by degree, sports lover by day, and a bartender by night. As a native of suburban Detroit it took moving to NYC for Katie to fully realize her love of all things Michigan and Detroit sports. Feel free to engage her in her love of the coolest city and prettiest state in the country and why she will always root for Ohio State to lose every sporting event ever. No, really I am dead serious about that last statement.

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