A perfect 10!

A rare feat in gymnastics turned Katelyn Ohashi into a viral YouTube sensation and a true icon of her sport. It wasn’t just that she was technically perfect, it was her spirit — the joy that radiated, from the kick-start clap that signalled the beginning of her routine, to the tune of The Jackson 5’s I Want You Back.

As she wowed the crowds with her skill, the sense of joy continued throughout her performance, with electrifying tumbling passes and carefully choreographed dance moves expertly executed to a soundtrack of up-tempo vintage hits. When Ohashi’s routine came to an end, the judges showed their appreciation the best way they knew how, awarding the gymnast a perfect score. Not a single point was deducted.

A perfect score is not only a rare feat in gymnastics, it is rare across all competitions, whether in sports, music or the arts. Even in work it is almost unheard of for someone to be recognised as perfect.

There is no doubt that Katelyn is an accomplished gymnast. Her record says it all: a six-time All-American and a four-time member of USA Gymnastics’ junior national team. She had even previously received two perfect 10s on the balance beam, an entirely different gymnastic apparatus. But while these impressive top marks make her story remarkable, there is something else that makes her achievements truly mind-blowing.

Months after winning the 2013 American Cup, Ohashi suffered a shoulder injury and the surgery that followed sidelined her for the rest of the year. Following the setback, she questioned if she would be able to continue at the international elite level, but refusing to give in, she gave it a try.

However, upon attempting to make a comeback in 2014, she suffered another injury, this time to her back, which left her unable to compete until the next year.

As if these injuries weren’t enough, during the first year of her collegiate career, in a meet against the Arizona Wildcats, the cap of Ohashi’s balance beam fell off as she stepped on it, causing her to land on her neck upon dismount and leaving her with a sternal fracture. Then, making matters even worse, she was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, a long-term condition where the colon and rectum become inflamed.

These successive setbacks hit the athlete hard, but they were not the only things keeping Ohashi from realising her elite dreams; she also found herself crushed by the pressure of high-level competition. Over time, it seemed that the higher she climbed, the more she lost the joy of the sport. In one interview she recalls that “No one ever fully knew what I was going through and I never really could say or publicise what was wrong with me.”

There was a time when Ohashi was on top of the world, an Olympic hopeful. She was unbeatable. Until she wasn’t.

Still, her physical and psychological struggles didn’t defeat her. Even when plagued with injury and disillusionment, she didn’t give up.

The next season, the balance beam, the very apparatus that had previously put Ohashi on the sideline, earned her two perfect 10s and the number one spot. More faultless performances on the floor, uneven bars and the vault followed in 2018, landing her yet more full marks, another top rank and a national championship.

Now, with 2019 in full swing, she is continuing as she means to go on: with a smile on her face and radiating joy. Just recently, in fact, she amazed everyone once more with her electric floor performance, tumbling and flipping her way to another perfect 10. Even more importantly, through determination and perseverance, the joy that she lost, returned, and she has fallen back in love with her sport.

Quitting is a cop out. It’s what losers do. As Ohashi’s story attests, even when you’re experience devastating setbacks and a loss of joy, giving up isn’t the answer. Winners never stop until they win.

Tommy Weir is CEO of EMLC Leadership Ai Lab and author of “Leadership Dubai Style”. Contact him at tsw@tommyweir.com.