Chellsie Memmel is proof that age is only a number. The mother of two made her gymnastics comeback on Saturday competing at the U.S. Classic. It was the first time Memmel, 32, had competed in nine years.
"It's here, it’s happening....training day complete. Very weird walking into the arena as a gymnast again but amazing at the same time. Everyone was so welcoming and supportive and I couldn’t have asked for a better first time back out on the floor," Memmel wrote on Twitter after her final practice before the big day.
Memmel flew through the air on her vault and completed a full-twisting Yurchenko. On the beam, she had a slight stumble, but recovered quickly and finished an all-around impressive performance. She scored a total of 13.750 in the vault and a 11.800 in the beam.
"That vault was SO floaty wow. How she flaired her arms out at the end was beautiful," one fan wrote on Twitter.
"One of my favorites then and more so now! Love that she is coming back for the love of the sport!" another person added on Twitter.
Memmel was at the top of her sport as a teenager. In 2005, she was the world all-around champion. In 2008, she won a silver medal with the U.S. women's gymnastics team at the Beijing Olympics alongside teammates Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin.
Memmel retired in 2012, got married and had two kids, however she never stayed far from gymnastics. Her Twitter bio lists her as a coach and a judge. Last year, during the COVID-19 lockdown, Memmel decided to start training again at her parents' gym in West Berlin, Wisconsin.
While the sport is usually dominated by teens and most athletes retire in their early 20s, Memmel wants to show that gymnastics can be fun and doesn't have to include a soul sucking time commitment.
"It’s important also for me to share just to show that there doesn’t need to be an age limit or a time limit on what we’re doing," she says in a YouTube video.
Her entire channel offers a behind the scenes look at her training journey alongside her father and coach, Andy Memmel.
Memmel told the Wall Street Journal that she trains a total of 15 hours per week, far less than the grueling workout schedules most gymnasts are known to follow.
“I've had so many emotions about it, but the main thing is just frustration and anger that so many gymnasts have not had a good experience, especially at the highest level,” she told the WSJ. "I know there’s a way that you can succeed in a positive environment."
Memmel got support from her former teammate, Nastia Liukin, who congratulated her on her comeback. "SO incredibly proud of you Chel," Liukin wrote on Twitter. "You are inspiring the entire world — every generation — showing that age is truly just a number AND your true love and passion for the sport."
While it's unclear what is next for Memmel after Saturday, the wife and mom of two felt like a winner after her triumphant comeback.
"There definitely are those hard days but those days are the ones where I'm like remembering you're just pushing yourself, you're having fun, you're seeing how far you can actually take this when people said you should have retired when you were 20 or when you were 24 or you can't have kids and come back to a sport," Memmel told reporters after she competed this weekend. "It's that kind of thinking I feel like is so backwards but that's what we think is true and it's not true."
Memmel said that her driving force behind her return to gymnastics is challenging and changing that narrative, especially for anyone out there who feels like they may have missed their moment.
"I just wanted to put that message out to anybody who thought they missed their chance at something or didn't get a chance to try it or who wanted to go back to their sport even just for fun," she added. "No one should be stopping you. Just don't hold yourself back."