Viral Gymnast Katelyn Ohashi on Learning to Show Emotion
‘Find those things that help you mentally and give you passion. This can help you through those dark places, when the sport is gone and you don’t know who you are without it.’
There are many ways to live a healthy life. The Health Diaries is a weekly series about the habits that keep notable people living well.
Katelyn Ohashi walked onto the gymnastics floor on Jan. 12 with one goal in mind: to have fun. Her new floor routine was high energy, technically brilliant, and extremely challenging. She danced to Earth, Wind & Fire, Tina Turner, and Michael Jackson. Finally, the music ended and Ohashi flung her arms into the air, victorious. The judges handed her a perfect 10.
That floor routine changed Ohashi’s life, vaulting her from a well-known gymnast (she beat Simone Biles in the American Cup in 2013) to a viral superstar. UCLA’s video of Ohashi’s routine now has 34 million views and counting. But the 21-year-old UCLA senior says this is one of the final chapters in her gymnastics career. In a few months, she’ll be graduating and going on to her next adventure.
This week, Ohashi spoke with Medium about her training routine, life after virality and sports, and why her floor routines are so joyful.
Gymnastics practice starts at 7:45 a.m. every morning, Monday through Friday, so I wake up around 7:10 a.m. I set my alarm for 7 a.m. and snooze it once. Then I give myself 10 minutes to get ready before I head out the door. I sometimes have treatment, which means maintaining any injuries using tools like soft tissue massage, and that starts at 6:45 a.m. I have a history of shoulder and back injuries, so I go to treatment a lot.
We have a fueling station at practice, so I usually grab a string cheese, yogurt, or protein bar there for breakfast. I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis a few years ago, so that really affects my intake of food. I struggle to find foods that fuel me but don’t cause inflammation. Recently I’ve started taking vitamin D supplements, which have made a huge impact on my stomach in a good way. I also have another autoimmune condition called granuloma annulare, and the vitamin D supplements help to lighten up the spots on my skin caused by that condition, too. I sometimes also take turmeric as well as a probiotic and a women’s multivitamin.
I’m usually at practice during the weekdays from 7:45 until 11 a.m., depending on my class schedule. Right now we’re in competition season, and we exert a lot of energy during weekend competitions, so we’re working on maintaining and managing our bodies during weekday practices. We do a lot of rolling out, sauna time, and massages, and our workouts are typically pretty light, just for maintaining our skills.
My workouts always look different from other people’s because of my body: I broke my back during high school, and now I can’t take a lot of impact. Right now, I’m training about once a week doing gymnastics, and then the rest of my week is rehab for my back and shoulder and squats and stuff for keeping up my leg strength.
After class, I have a decent amount of free time, but it feels like it goes by so quickly. I’m a women’s and gender studies major, so I’ll typically do some studying after class. For lunch, I often eat the pre-prepared meals they make for the gymnastics team, which have some form of a protein, veggies, and grains. Right now, I do a lot of interviews after lunch and class, too, then I’m usually hanging out with friends or trying to find some alone time. I’ll go home, listen to music, or maybe watch some TV to relax.
For dinner I like to have a protein and veggies again. But because of my ulcerative colitis, really healthy foods are hard on my stomach. Sugars aren’t good, and I have to be careful with vegetables. So it can be tough to find food that feels good. After college, I’ve been thinking that I would love to try to get rid of gluten and also go pescatarian. I think I’d only miss burgers!
Before bed, I just brush my teeth and fall asleep. I don’t usually wear makeup, but if I do, I’ll wipe it off. Then it’s pajamas and falling into bed, no other routine; I’m pretty good at just falling asleep right away.
One habit that’s important for keeping me mentally healthy is having meaningful conversations with the people around me. That’s a habit that fuels my body and my mind. I also like to go to the beach and write, and I’ve been trying to focus on giving myself time to be alone. My big thing right now is trying to not spread myself out in a bunch of different areas. I don’t have to do everything right now — I can give myself a break.
A lot of people ask me why my floor routine was so joyful, and I think it’s because of my gymnastics journey. My coach told me a while ago, “You live your life in the light.” And I think that’s true for all athletes but maybe especially gymnasts. Everyone is watching us, and we’re not supposed to show emotion. As a gymnast, I’ve always compartmentalized my life, which is a blessing and a curse. But over time, I’ve learned that my sport doesn’t fully define me, and I think that’s where a lot of the joy in my routines comes from now: I’m not compartmentalizing as much, and I know who I am beyond my sport.
After this year, I won’t be doing gymnastics anymore. I don’t want to coach, although I think I’ll probably do some camps. But I love writing and poetry, and I’m doing photography now to match my poetry. I also have an internship set up with Players’ Tribute when my life calms down. I have a lot of plans for the future that I’m passionate about.