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Gymnast Katelyn Ohashi goes from eating disorders to being a champion for body positivity

INSIDER logoINSIDER 9/11/2019 Meredith Cash
a woman standing in front of a fence © Dana Scruggs/ESPN
  • Former UCLA gymnast Katelyn Ohashi went viral in January after her infectiously joyous floor routine won over the hearts of millions.
  • But now that she has put her gymnastics career behind her, Ohashi told Insider she is shifting her focus to what comes next - and by the sound of it, there's a lot on her radar.
  • Since graduating from UCLA, Ohashi has won the Best Play award at the 2019 ESPYs, posed for Gatorade's 2020 Beat the Heat calendar, and appeared on the cover of ESPN's "The Body Issue."
  • Ohashi told Insider that she has also begun writing books about body positivity.

Gymnast Katelyn Ohashi went viral in January after her flawless, infectiously joyous floor routine won over the hearts of millions of people who watched her earn a perfect 10 for the sixth time in her collegiate career.

But now that she has graduated from UCLA and put her gymnastics career behind her, the former Olympic hopeful is shifting her focus to what comes next - and, by the sound of it, there's a lot on her radar.

"I think it's so cool because the world is literally my oyster," Ohashi told Insider. "Now I get to experience all of these things outside of gymnastics, which consumed 19 years of my life. I absolutely love it to death, but I want to grow and learn about everything else that I'm passionate about and experience new things."

a man doing a trick in front of a crowd © Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

The 22-year-old Seattle native had long aspired to reach the Olympics. Ohashi competed alongside Simone Biles, even defeating the Olympic champion at her competitive peak. But injuries and a harmful relationship with her body got in the way. 

"That girl that you would think had it all - all these medals in her room or podiums she's standing on - she felt like she had nothing," Ohashi said in a 2018 video she collaborated on with The Players' Tribune.

Ohashi tore both of her shoulders and fractured her back in the course of competition, and doctors were uncertain that she would be able to return to elite-level gymnastics.

a person standing in front of a crowd © AP Photo/Ben Liebenberg © Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

But the pain extended beyond the grueling physical toll that the sport was taking on her. Ohashi explained that she had developed an unhealthy mentality surrounding exercise and her body image, and eventually began to fall out of love with gymnastics altogether.

"Fans would tell her she wasn't good enough, she didn't look a certain way," Ohashi narrated in The Players' Tribune video. "She wanted to eat junk food and feel OK the next day. She would constantly exercise after a meal just to feel good enough to go to bed." 

"I was broken," she added.

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Ohashi made the difficult decision to forgo her Olympic ambitions, dropping down from the elite level with the hopes of competing in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

She enrolled at UCLA in 2015, and that season she was named Pac-12 Freshman of the Week four times. By the time her collegiate career came to a close, Ohashi had won two national championships. But, more importantly, her love of gymnastics and love for her own body had returned.

Ohashi told Insider that she is now hoping to pass along the lessons she learned over the course of her gymnastics career to people of all ages through a number of projects that she has already begun to embark on. Ohashi posed nude for the final edition of ESPN's "The Body Issue," which was released on September 4, and spoke at length about her pursuit of self-love.

"I feel really accepting of the things I used to be insecure about," she told ESPN. "I have gone through eating disorders and body shaming, and here I am today doing this shoot for millions of people to see." 

Additionally, she teamed up with the likes of Peyton Manning, Serena Williams, and J.J. Watt for Gatorade's 2020 Beat the Heat calendar, a campaign promoting hydration in sport that Ohashi said has transcended its initial focus.

"I think the diversity they picked is really cool," Ohashi told Insider. "They chose different athletes from a variety of sports who have different types of bodies. It's a super diverse campaign that I'm really excited to be a part of. I feel like it's more than just a hydration campaign."

Ohashi also has plans to explicitly address her struggle for self-acceptance and battle for body positivity through a pair of upcoming writing projects. 

"I've been working on an activism and poetry book for a while now," Ohashi said. "And I got another idea to do a children's book, so I started writing that recently. I'm trying to touch on all these different aspects that you run into growing up because, at times, we're so confused. I want to talk about how to adapt and internalize things that you're going through and get a different perspective." 

While she graduated from UCLA in June, Ohashi told Insider that she's still adapting to life after gymnastics. Luckily for her, the viral routine from January has undoubtedly altered the course of her post-college plans.

"Who had any idea that one gymnastics video would change my life?" Ohashi said. "I wanted to leave this year with a big bang, and I would say I did a decent job of that. Now I'm not extremely stressed about trying to find a job out of college, which is amazing."

"I get to have fun with all these opportunities and get to work with amazing people. I hope this can continue for as long as I want it to." 

Related Video: Katelyn Ohashi's Life Changed After Her Perfect 10 Went Viral (Provided by Yahoo Sports)

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