Gymnast Chellsie Memmel Made an Epic Comeback After Nearly a Decade In Retirement

The 32-year-old mom of two competed at the U.S. Gymnastics Classic and proved it's never too late to chase your goals.

While many learned skills or adopted new hobbies during COVID-19 quarantine(s), Chellsie Memmel, an Olympic silver medalist and three-time World Champion gymnast, returned to her roots. It had been eight years since she last competed professionally but she, like seemingly everyone, was looking for ways to spend her time. So, Memmel turned to the gym her parents own in Wisconsin, where she "just started practicing more and being in the gym even more," she told Good Morning America in August 2020. And just this past weekend, the gymnast put all that hard work (which, btw, she chronicled on YouTube) to use.


On Saturday, the 32-year-old mother of two (!!) came out of her 9-year retirement to compete in the beam and vault events at the 2021 G.K. U.S. Gymnastics Classic in Indianapolis. "It's here, it's happening," Memmel wrote on Instagram after her final practice before the U.S. Classic. "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. Hoping tomorrow will have a few less nerves (but I know it won't). Thank you for following along on this journey that has lead to my first competition in 9 goes nothing!!!"

But Memmell's return was far more than "nothing" — quite the opposite, actually. She flew through the air on her vault routine and performed a full-twisting Yurchenko (which involves a round-off onto the springboard and a back handspring onto the horse or vaulting table). And despite a slight stumble on beam, she completed that routine with flying colors as well. In addition to impressing judges during both events, she left fans of the sport — and, TBH, people everywhere — in awe as she proved that even in gymnastics age is truly just a number.

"I feel like this is a win," Memmel said after the competition. "Obviously beam didn't go as I wanted but I'm happy. I put myself out there and I couldn't have asked for a better day."

And Memmel's not the only one feeling pretty darn pleased post-performances. Former gymnast Nastia Liukin congratulated Memmel on Twitter, writing, "So incredibly proud of you Chel. 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 ❤️." (Related: Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin Rewatched the 2008 Olympics Together In a Nostalgic Live-Stream)

"I love doing gymnastics," Memmel also shared on Saturday. "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.'" (FYI — Memmel was 24 when she first retired in 2012; she then got married and welcomed two children, Dashel Dean, now 6, and Audrielle Ruth Maier, 3.)

But Memmel did do just that...and she's not done yet. During the August 2020 interview with Good Morning America, she suggested she may make a run to compete at the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo. "I haven't said that out loud yet," she said. "My goal is just to see where this takes me. I've committed to training and to try to get to competitions and just to see this where it goes." If she does compete in Tokyo, Memmel will be a full decade older than Aly Raisman, who, at 22, was the oldest member of the 2016 U.S. women's gymnastics teams. (Related: Ageless Gymnast Oksana Chusovitina Qualifies for Finals)

Whatever the future holds, there's no denying that Memmel's return to the sport isn't just a personal triumph. It's also a statement-making move that seems poised to inspire a whole generation of people (especially mothers) who have wondered if it's too late to do that thing they always wanted to do — be it an athletic feat or something else entirely.

"Seeing that progression of her starting to do legit elite-level skills and routines, and her journey to get all of that stuff, has been incredible," Carly Patterson, a 33-year-old former gymnast who competed with Memmel in the 2004 Olympic all-around championship, said to the Wall Street Journal. "What we can all take from that is that it doesn't matter what age or stage you're at, you can go after whatever you want to do…And you can have a good time in the gym, it doesn't have to be this whole serious, strict, 'You have to follow these certain specific rules all the time.' You can do it your way." (Related: People Are Mesmerized By This Viral Floor Routine from Gymnast Nia Dennis)

And that (in addition to just enjoying gymnastics) is exactly what Memmel's hoping to do, explaining in one of her YouTube videos: "It's important also for me to share [her adult gymnastics journey] just to show that there doesn't need to be an age limit or a time limit on what we're doing."

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