“Letters to a Young Gymnast – The Art of Mentoring” by Nadia Comaneci is an autobiography written in the style of letters to young gymnast. Nadia narrates the inspiring story of her development as a young gymnast to the glory of not only winning Olympic Gold at the age of 14 but being the first gymnast in history to score a perfect 10! I really, really enjoyed this book! – a highly recommended read!
From a young age, Nadia had the strong-willed facets of determination. She was a quick learner, had immense pride, and a strong sense of confidence. She always believed she was a super athlete even at the age of 4. But unlike many young, talented athletes, she did not start out with Olympic goals. She was just a young girl who wanted to do cartwheels.
Nadia starts at gymnastics school, age 6, after being identified with potential. She was not the best nor did she stand out in any way. “I was not born a champion, and I did not dream in those early days of becoming one. … I dreamed of learning new skills.”
Her development from an early age was inspiring. The book takes you into the world of life and training as an elite young gymnast. Competitions are recalled, with her Olympic glory and being the first gymnast in history to score a perfect 10 of particular interest.
Eventually, Nadia’s life after competitive gymnastics brought a turn of events. She was an Olympic champion who was poverty-stricken under the strict Romanian rule of President Ceausescu and his wife. It was nerve wrecking to read about her desperate and dangerous defection to the Unites States of America. It was interesting to also understand the significant difficulties assimilating into a new country with another language and a very different culture, particularly without any family support.
“Letters to a Young Gymnast” ends full circle with Nadia back in Romania. This is a lovely story of an extremely talented, determined, courageous and resilient athlete. She describes herself in light of others’ comments, “I look back on pictures of myself as a young gymnast and understand some see blankness. But I see intensity, determination, desire. Always desire.”
I found her journey through her gymnastics career extremely interesting. Nadia recalls many stories and tales of interest, which were also unique as she was growing up in communist Romania. You come to appreciate all the hard work and dedication, the discipline to training, strict eating, social sacrifices and the importance and dependence upon her coaches, Bela and Marta Karolyi.
I was incredibly surprised to read about Nadia’s attitude whilst competing, particularly at her first Olympics in 1976. She recalls her perfect scoring bar routine in a very unexpected way. Her overall attitude and feelings towards the overall competition were quite unusual for someone who just made history. I would say, very unique! You’ll have to read about it for yourself!
Nadia appears honest in her opinions and balanced in her review of situations, of herself and of other people, the many which play a significant part in shaping the direction of her life. She talks about her coach Bela with both fondness and fairness.The book exposes Nadia’s difficult teen years and her need for independence. “The desire to be a teen clashed with the desire to be an elite athlete.” She talks openly about her difficulties during this time. However, she totally rejects the portrayal in the movie entitled “Nadia” where her character attempts suicide.
Valuable words of wisdom to young gymnasts and parents
Nadia embellishes her memoirs with many words of wisdom to young gymnasts and athletes. One day last month, my youngest daughter who is a gymnast, did not want to go to training. She said it had been very boring of late. The start of the year had been focusing on strength exercises and repetitions of basic skills. There was very little opportunity to learn anything new.
I quoted Nadia’s reflection and understanding of her coaches demanding “perfection of the easiest skills so that the more difficult ones are built upon a rock-solid foundation.” “A gymnast cannot do a flip on the beam unless the leaps and steps before that skill are so smooth that she will be perfectly positioned and balanced for the more difficult elements.” Nadia offers great advice to young gymnasts. Without mastering these basics, there can be an increased risk of injury. My daughter went to her training. She is now also reading this book and enjoying it!
Nadia provides some advice to parents too. From her experience as an elite gymnast, she articulates her opinion as to how she believes parents should encourage a child with talent. I love that Nadia also shares the wisdom of her expertise to her readers.
This is a great read that I would recommend to gymnasts, parents of athletes, anyone interested in gymnastics and sports in general, and to those looking for an inspirational true story. I have now passed the book on to my girls to enjoy.
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