Oksana Chusovitina may have captivated audiences around the world at this year’s Olympics — but it’s what she got caught doing off-camera that’s shocking the world even more.
Oksana Chusovitina made history at this year’s Olympics by being the oldest woman to compete in gymnastics.
The 41-year-old is competing at her seventh Olympics this year, breaking another record, in a sport that’s catered to young women and teenagers.
Although the age-defying gymnast seems to have it all, Oksana’s life tells the story of someone who’s faced unfathomable tragedies in life — and overcame them unlike any athlete in history.
Oksana was born in 1975 in what is now Uzbekistan, and she learned gymnastics through training in the rigid Soviet Union system. Oksana’s gymnastics career began to really flourish in 1991 at her first world championships, where she earned three medals, including a gold on the floor exercise.
She won the prestigious title by mounting a move so difficult that it was named after her — and will be used by Simone Biles, the favorite to win the 2016 Olympic title on the floor, in her first tumbling pass — 25 years later.
Although Oksana’s career was on the rise, nothing could prepare her for the shocking struggles she was about to endure…
Oksana thought her career was coming to an end in 1991 after the fall of the Soviet Union. Uzbekistan was suddenly an independent country — without the resources needed for developing elite gymnasts.
That’s when God sent Oksana a miracle in the most unexpected way…
Thankfully, a “Unified Team” was created for athletes from the former Soviet nations for the 1992 Barcelona Games, and Oksana made her first Olympic team in 1992. After winning a gold medal at her first Olympics, Oksana returned to Uzbekistan and began training and competing for the new nation.
However, the gymnastic equipment that Uzbekistan furnished for the gold medal athlete was old and often unsafe. Despite the challenges, Oksana persisted and prepared world-class routines anyway. She competed in her second Olympic games at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, and this time for the country of Uzbekistan.
As if facing political turmoil with your career in jeopardy at a young age wasn’t painful enough, Oksana would endure another gut-wrenching hardship just a few years later.
In 1997, Oksana married fellow countryman and Olympic wrestler Bakhodir Kurbanov. The two welcomed their first and only child, a son named Alisher, in November of 1999 — less than a year before the Sydney Games.
While Oksana managed to balance motherhood with training and competing, her determination was put to the ultimate test when Alisher was diagnosed with Leukemia at just 3-years-old.
This was devastating to Oksana, who knew that the Uzbekistani medical system couldn’t treat him adequately to save his life. The country simply didn’t have the medical facilities or technology to cure him.
When I learned how Oksana used her gift of gymnastics to save Alisher’s life, I realized God had even more extraordinary plans for this woman…
Shortly after Alisher’s diagnosis, Oksana spent her time while touring with her Uzbekistani gymnastic team looking for help. Thankfully, coaches of the Cologne Germany team offered to help, and the international gymnastic community started chipping in to help pay for Alisher’s treatment by holding fundraisers. Oksana and her family moved to Cologne, Germany and Alisher began receiving treatments there.
However, the most inspiring way Oksana used her gift of gymnastics to save her son’s life was when she began training with her new teammates and coaches on the Cologne German gymnastic team. Each time Oksana won prize money from her gymnastic competitions, she would use it to pay for Alisher’s treatments.
After 6 years of Alisher’s battle with leukemia, Oksana’s family received the best news ever shortly after the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008. Oksana had just returned home from winning a silver medal on the vault when the doctor called and told her Alisher was finally leukemia-free. “It was the greatest news of all,” she said.
“Medals, no medals, it really doesn’t matter when you hear this news. [No] medal could compare to this type of phone call. When your son is healthy, you can’t compare any athletic achievements with that,” Oksana explained.
Oksana contemplated retiring soon after, but ultimately she couldn’t stay away from the sport. As if maintaining the physical strength and ability for the sport isn’t impressive enough, Oksana’s passion and drive are still very much alive too — she’s proving the best things in life really do get better with age.
The Olympic legend is able to spend her free time at home with her husband and Alisher, who’s now 17-years-old. Oksana claims the balance between gymnastics and her personal life is a healthy one, but she remains humble despite all the success.
“I feel like every year that I’m competing, I’m leaving a little part of myself behind. People will already remember me, and they’ll remember me for a long time because of my longevity. I think the longevity is the best thing I can leave behind,” Oksana said.
“I already have my world medals, my Olympic medals and I really don’t need to leave anything else except for my love for the sport,” she added.
Oksana’s ability to turn tragedy into triumph, time after time, reflects her remarkable courage and perseverance. Thanks to this 41-year-old, the logic of age has been redefined.
Please keep Oksana Chusovitina in your prayers as she competes in her seventh Olympics! Her testimony is inspiring people of all ages – at a time when the world needs it now more than ever. Thank you, Oksana Chusovitina, for reminding the world what a true Olympic hero looks like.
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