Jennifer Sey defends her book Chalked Up

To her credit, Jennifer Sey has a blog and is openly talking about those upset about what her new book called Chalked Up is doing to the image of gymnastics.

Ex-Parkette gymnast Jessica Armstrong (a lawyer) called into a talk show and called the author a “liar”.

Read Jennifer’s response: Hi Jessica – Jen Sey blog

UPDATE: That post has for some reason been removed from her blog. Everything on the internet is recorded, however, and here’s Jennifer Sey’s deleted post to which I responded:

Hi Jessica

My book has been out for about a week and half and I’ve done 2 national morning TV shows, a handful of local radio programs, “Talk of the Nation” with Neil Conan on NPR, half a dozen magazine/newspaper/.com interviews and one reading at a local book store. I’ve flown to NY from San Francisco twice in a week; the second time I was there for less than 10 hours.

I’m not complaining. I’m grateful that so many news outlets are interested in covering my book, even though I wish they weren’t so keen to shine a light on the untoward elements, most obviously highlighted in the publisher styled sub-title rather than the pages of the memoir. (My original sub-title was “The Life of a Gymnast”.) I’ve said repeatedly this book is not a tell-all. I’m not trying to bring gymnastics down. I realize the sub-title isn’t helping the book NOT to be framed up this way which is fine, if it gets people to pick it up at the bookstore. And all that stuff is in the book. But people can read it and decide what it is in totality for themselves. I hope they find it isn’t prurient; rather, a story about growing up.

The response from readers has been overwhelmingly positive. I’ve received letters and phone calls and emails and reader reviews on amazon.com. About 95% of them kind; people expressing gratitude for a story they could empathize with whether they were gymnasts or not. A story that, for them, epitomizes our culture in which young women never feel good enough, thin enough, accomplished enough. Never …well…enough.

While on NPR (I’ll admit, my favorite appearance so far…I’m an NPR lover), there were live callers who posed ‘soft ball’ questions such as: “My daughter is 3 and takes gymnastics classes. Do you think I should let her continue?” Yes. “My daughter is just starting out in competitive gymnastics and she loves it. How do I know if it crosses over into something destructive?” Talk to her. “My son does gymnastics. Is it as bad as girls’ gymnastics.” No. It went on like that for a few rounds. And then…Jessica.

“Hi this is Jessica. [I’m paraphrasing. I don’t recall exactly what she said next.] I went to Parkettes and trained beside Jennifer. I also went to Stanford, like Jennifer. This book is filled with lies! She obviously didn’t fact check anything! I’ve talked to 20 girls who also attended Parkettes at the same time and none of them recall any of this treatment. Jennifer is the James Frey of gymnastics! The book is filled with lies that she is hoping to parlay into a lucrative writing career.” Wow. Doesn’t she know writers don’t make any money? Honestly, it’s a good thing I’ve kept my day job.

Jessica is Jessica Armstrong. Or was, back in the day. Her parents housed young gymnasts who moved to Allentown to train. Several of these boarders moved in with my family when my parents made the trek to Allentown because the young gymnasts were so unhappy at the Armstrong’s. I followed Jessica to Stanford. I’d never heard of this school before she made the journey to Northern California. I admired her. She was smart, she saw life beyond the sport.

After my initial on-air berating, she went on to iterate her very specific issues with some context-setting details in the book: a male coach throwing a chair in anger, a female coach berating a girl for her weight on the loud speaker.

I tried to remain calm, though I was a tad shaken, I’ll admit. Mostly because I know her. A stranger would not have had the same impact for some reason. She read her script like a lawyer (she is one) to strike fear in my heart (she didn’t…I just struggled with how to respond). My spur of the moment decision was to keep it above the fray. If I responded with the same vindictiveness and anger and personal insults that she levied, I’d appear defensive. And I am not. This is my story. This is what I experienced while doing gymnastics. I don’t need to feel afraid or defensive because it is true. The good (and there is a lot of it in the book, by the way) and the bad.

“Hi Jessica. [friendly] Sorry you see things that way but I am glad you had a different experience. I have friends from back then too, they’ve read the book, and remember the same incidents. [And I like James Frey.]” I didn’t say that last bit. That would mean guilt by association.

Frankly, I find it hard to believe that Jess – as she was called when we dodged chairs (well, not her) and epithets wielded by angry coaches – doesn’t remember weigh-ins. We were all sufficiently traumatized by them. She was often – as often as anyone else – berated for her weight, made to stay late sweating water and burning the little bit of fat that lingered around the thighs, the waist, the butt. Really, Jessica, you don’t recall that? C’mon. Though doth protest too much. Or perhaps, you’ve suffered amnesia? Brain trauma from head landings?

My coaches were recorded for posterity in a CNN documentary a few years back. They were filmed yelling at small children, encouraging them to work with broken bones. All of the things I reference in the book, suggesting things haven’t changed all that much. It’s telling, I think, that they aren’t self aware enough to NOT act like that on national television. It proves they really think there is nothing wrong with it. In their minds, it’s all in line with their mission statement of helping gymnasts be the very best they can be. And they did make me the best I could have been. The real question is: was it worth it?

Jessica’s vitriolic rant left me thinking about this and other issues: why do some women insist on pretending these happenings didn’t take place? Can’t one embrace the experience, warts and all, and still be proud of having been so good at something at so young of an age? Can it have been worth it and not so great at the same time?

For some – the majority – their training didn’t resemble mine. But for those that trained beside me that deny it was so, all I’ve been able to come up with is that their memories of gymnastics represent “the glory days”. And to keep these memories in tact requires whitewashing the whole experience.

My years as a gymnast represent something of the glory days as well. I end the book by saying that I miss it every day. I’m torn about whether it was worth it but, 20 years later, I’m leaning towards YES. Despite the trauma and emotional abuse and anorexia outlined so prominently in the longest sub-title known to man, I was experiencing transcendence the likes of which I will probably never experience again. I was young, I was competing all over the world, I could fly. Literally. It was thrilling. But to embrace it and feel pride, I’ve had to accept that sometimes it really sucked; that there have been lasting effects on my self-esteem, my body image, my body itself. But I also honed a competitiveness and striving nature that has served me well. See…the good and the bad. Embraced!

Sorry you’re upset Jessica. I’m not maligning your experience. Remember it however you like. Write a book about how lovely it all was. But please, stop calling me on the radio. Or call. It’s fine. I’ll be ready with a response.

===== my original response below:

There’s more:

Jacketphoto.jpg

… I’m grateful that so many news outlets are interested in covering my book, even though I wish they weren’t so keen to shine a light on the untoward elements, most obviously highlighted in the publisher styled sub-title rather than the pages of the memoir. (My original sub-title was “The Life of a Gymnast”.) I’ve said repeatedly this book is not a tell-all. I’m not trying to bring gymnastics down. I realize the sub-title isn’t helping the book NOT to be framed up this way which is fine, if it gets people to pick it up at the bookstore. And all that stuff is in the book. But people can read it and decide what it is in totality for themselves. I hope they find it isn’t prurient; rather, a story about growing up.

You might get the impression that Jennifer Sey is a victim of media taking the worse possible spin on her memoir. I don’t believe that. She works as Marketing Director for Levi’s Jeans. Jennifer Sey understands how media works.

I also called Jennifer Sey a liar.

Not about everything. But about the most important things.

If she donates all the, likely meager, proceeds of the book — and the future film rights — to “protection of children in gymnastics”, I’ll apologize. And withdraw my objections.

Right now I believe the worst about Jennifer Sey’s motives. That she’s doing more harm than good to the sport.

Related: The Gymnast – a short fictional film

(via Shergymrag)

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Rick Mc

Career gymnastics coach who loves the outdoors, and the internet.

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