This book has a special meaning to me, because I was a gymnast myself and even if I never reached high levels, I’ve always enjoyed it immensely. When I was 12 I watched for the first time the film “Nadia”, about the life and success of Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci. The movie was on this videotape that was passed on among us little gymnasts and every single girl in the gym thought that Nadia was her hero. I did as well. I don’t know how many times I watched it before bringing it back, but I thought about every scene, and sang the music that plays during her legendary uneven bar exercise at the 1976 Olympics, and dreamed about being her, for months and months. It was only after many years that I first watched a real video of her on tape. Short after I bought my first computer and learned how to surf the Internet, I began to trade gymnastics competitions on tape with people all over the world and one of the first competitions that I requested was the 1976 Olympics. It’s a rather boring tape, with no commentary and piano music played for the whole duration. But it still retains its magic, because it was THE competition. When Nadia became legend by earning a perfect 10 for the first time in Olympic history. Not just once, but seven times.
This book is her story, told by her, in the form of a long letter to an imaginary young fan asking for advices. She talks about everything, from her birth, to her childhood, to her first steps in the gym with legendary coaches Bela and Marta Karolyi. She speaks matter-of-factly about her victories and recounts passionately about her defection from Romania in 1989. She answers all the questions that are usually asked to her with honesty and patience. How her life changed after her success, if the stories about abuses from her coach are true, if she was starved by him, if she really tried to kill herself. She answers everything, even though I had the feeling she is not really telling everything, which is understandable. She denies that she attempted suicide, as told in the movie, and that leaves me a bit puzzled, because how could they have make up such a story if none of it was true?
But it was interesting to get an insight perspective from the very person who’s been my hero for so long. I didn’t know anything about her after her last Olympics in Moscow in 1980. That she lived a miserable life under the Ceausescu’s regime, and that she was eventually forced to defect. That she escaped in the night, on foot, with a group of strangers, and that she crossed the Hungarian border scratching herself on wire-fences, risking to be shot anytime by the Romanian police. That was very interesting, and scary.
We’ve lived very different lives, we have very different personalities, but we share one thing, and that is our love for gymnastics. She had the chance to shoot for the moon, I didn’t. But I understand when she says that her hard work didn’t feel like sacrifice, that she loved everything she did in the gym, not because she wanted the medals, but because she loved the feeling of flying in the air, of stretching her body towards impossible moves.
I dreamed of learning new skills. I never saw the bigger picture of international success and fame. I dreamed of running and twisting and double somersaults, and that nothing could tether me to the ground because I was born to fly.
She didn’t give up her childhood, she lived it just like she wanted to.
I enjoyed reading it, even though I suspect she had some help writing it. Her English is a bit too good, and too literary to be truly hers, and that didn’t feel completely real. Beside that, it really is a mandatory read for any real gymnastic fan.
For all the others, I know you might feel left out. So I will add this video, to help you understand what I’m talking about. Enjoy :-)