There’s only one day to go until the Opening Ceremony and our penultimate profile focuses on an inspirational athlete described as ‘strong, purposeful, passionate’. Meet a lady who has broken practically every rule there is to becoming an Olympic gymnast.
Firstly, at 27 years old, Houry Gebeshian is one of the older female gymnasts competing; not only that, but she is also competing for one of the smaller nations – Armenia – since she holds dual Armenian and American citizenship. She therefore had to qualify via the individual places at the Test Event and is Armenia’s first female Olympic gymnast!
Traditionally, American gymnasts train at their local gyms through the regional and elite levels before entering the national circuit (Tops, Development, potentially making the National Team). Once they graduate from high school and unless an international/Olympic career is beckoning (or even afterwards – Madison Kocian is due to start at the University of Florida in January), many then go on to compete in the NCAAs for four years before concluding their gymnastics. Others, like Simone Biles or Aly Raisman for example, choose to become paid professionals so they can concentrate on more than one Olympic cycle but in doing so, lose their college eligibility.
Houry trained for junior nationals and then competed for Iowa as a freshman-senior, advancing to the NCAA National Championships as an all-arounder in 2011. But it was at this point that she launched her international career! Furthermore, she took a four year break before the great 2015 season which saw her qualify to the all-around final at the Europeans and to the Test Event after Worlds. Such has been the trajectory of her unusual career, but it is even more impressive when we consider how she spends her days. Most Olympic gymnasts train twice a day, for over 30 hours a week, and the rest of their time is spent recovering, doing physio and gym work, travelling, preparing, and living a normal life. Houry, however, is also a trained midwife and works at a clinic in Ohio for the whole day or often nightshifts as well and has to fit her training in around her shifts: she also coaches herself!
She has funded her Olympic journey herself, with some help from a crowdfunding project, and has done so fabulously well to make it to Rio. I can’t even begin to imagine how mentally and physically exhausted she must be after balancing such intense training and a demanding job, and how efficient she is at planning, preparing and executing her schedule. We’re all #hootingforHoury!