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Sey Memoir Not All It's Chalked Up to Be
(14 votes, average 2.14 out of 5)
Perception is not always the same as reality, writes former Parkettes gymnast Lisa Lazar after reading Jennifer Sey's new memoir, Chalked Up."

Many say that perception is reality, but what I say is, what appears as reality to one individual or a group of individuals is not always an accurate account of the truth. I write this with mixed emotions, torn between a teammate I looked up to and a coaching staff I have respected since I was a young girl.

I grew up within the Parkettes organization, was an elite level gymnast and two-time U.S. junior national team member in the mid-'80s. I trained with Jennifer Sey and was coached by the same people she writes about in Chalked Up. I find myself admiring Jen for letting people see the depth of her childhood trials and tribulations, which she reveals as having begun long before she ever went to the Parkettes gym. I struggle, however, to understand how some of her detailed recollections are so very different from mine.

Would I say that it was all fun times? Absolutely not. Would I say my perception is the same as Jen's on the accounts of what she remembers went on? Not quite. What I will say is that the true reality lies somewhere in the middle.

While reading her book, I noticed a few inaccuracies in names and places, and then I got to Chapter 19. In this chapter, Jen uses my name when describing an incident that simply never occurred, when she writes that a coach used the intercom to announce I had gained weight while my mother sat in the balcony and did nothing about it. I even contacted my mother to find out if I possibly had blocked out this memory, and she confirmed such an episode never happened. She went on to say that if it had — or if she had even heard about something like this happening — I would never have stayed with Parkettes for my gymnastics career.

For those of you past gymnasts, parents, gymnastics lovers (and even haters), Jen portrays Parkettes, the Strausses and the rest of the staff as almost evil, in my opinion. She really doesn't mention any good qualities of anyone other than coach John Holman, and even with the good qualities, she implies that he wasn't there to just coach and help us achieve our goals. I have to wonder why she never mentioned the more positive things the rest of the Parkettes coaching staff did to help make her and many of her teammates successful.

Did the coaches yell, scream and even threaten to keep us out of competitions because of our weight? Yes, at times all of this happened, but not just at our gym, and at much worse levels at other gyms. We were there to become champions, and the job of every coach was to keep us safe by keeping our weight down, pushing us to the limit of our potential and helping us achieve our dreams. They may have spent more time with us than our parents, but I still believe our parents should have kept up with our mental and physical health regardless of where we were living.

I have to wonder why she never mentioned the more positive things the rest of the Parkettes coaching staff did to help make her and many of her teammates successful.

Were we weighed in too often? Sure we were, but that has long been rectified, at least at the Parkettes gym. Today, at the Parkettes National Gymnastics Training Center the gymnasts' weight and overall physical condition may be monitored once a week. I don't know of one sport where coaches don't yell, discuss weight or push someone too far for the liking of some athletes, parents or some bystanders.

It would have been very easy for Jen to have shown even a glimpse of the softer side of the Parkettes coaching staff. I believe that all of us remember good times from when we trained there. For example, I remember Donna being the first to jump up and down for joy when someone hit a new trick for the first time, and joke around with snowballs when the first snowfall came each year.

The Strausses and their coaching staff have made so many positive changes over the last 20 years, and it is a shame that Jen did not take the time to research and reveal any of this in her book. Today, Parkettes is still one of the top gyms in the country. They are producing numerous successful, well-rounded gymnasts who earn full scholarships to many of the top universities in the country.

Almost all of us stay in contact with the gym and our teammates, many times to share a highlight in our lives and sometimes to share bad news. To many of us, this gym and its coaching staff led by Bill and Donna Strauss are an extension of our families. They have attended our weddings, shared in the joy of our children and still embrace us with a huge smile and a hug when we walk through the door for a reunion. They helped mold us into the dedicated, determined and successful people we are today. I and many of my former teammates plan to attend the 40-year celebration later this year.

I will leave you with this thought. On pages 280-281 of her book, Jen talks about the way her friends describe her and then goes on to add the way she feels about herself. It indicates that the way people perceive her is quite different than the way she often feels about herself. Before believing everything she writes to be the accurate account of the days back in the mid-'80s, ask yourself this question: How much of this book is the true reality of what actually happened during those years, and how much is Jen's perception of the truth?

Lisa Lazar is a former elite gymnast who trained at the Parkettes from 1977 to 1990. She now resides in Baltimore.

Comments (2)add comment

AC said:

the job of every coach was to keep us safe by keeping our weight down

That statement alone tells me that the author of this piece was looking at her coaches from a very skewed perspective. If coaches were keeping athletes - who happened to be very young girls - "safe" by yelling, screaming, and threatening, especially in regards to weight, there was clearly something wrong in that gym. Saying it happens everywhere and it is much worse at other gyms isn't a valid defense. That's like saying, "Oh, my parents hit me every now and then, but the abuse my friend gets from HER parents is much worse!"
October 18, 2010
Votes: +23

alexa said:

I am a parkette gymnast. all of that stuff still happens! they scream at us everyday, and yell at us for our weight. I am 13 and weigh 75pounds and I get yelled at because that's to muchsmilies/angry.gif
July 03, 2016
Votes: +6

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