JUSTEN: But it’s easier on the body. It’s easier on the joints. You know, currently in the United States, our top two women are both 38 years old, former Soviet gymnasts, Yuliya Brown and Marina Moskalenko. They’re 38. They’re married. They’re living normal lives. But they’re also still enjoying sports and being very successful.
[Express Yourself intro music plays]
JESSICA: This week, Ruby Harrold Zucholding the crap out of the bars at the Dutch Friendly, Justen Millerbernd is here to talk to us about recruiting Chellsie Memmel for tumbling and how Kalon is doing on his recovery.
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JESSICA: This is episode 47 for September 4, 2013. I’m Jessica from Master’s Gymnastics
BLYTHE: I’m Blythe from The Gymnastics Examiner
UNCLE TIM: I’m Uncle Tim from Uncle Tim Talks Men’s Gym
JESSICA: And this is the number one gymnastics podcast in the world bringing you all the news from around the gymternet. Rhythmic worlds (sighs). Did you see, Uncle Tim, the thing about the anthem?
UNCLE TIM: I did.
JESSICA: Oh my God. Ok. I’m sure that it wasn’t like on purpose that this happened. But they played the wrong anthem, the Russian anthem when the Ukrainian gymnast was up there. Oh my God!
JESSICA: Seriously, could that be more of a huge cultural and political guffaw to make?
BLYTHE: I mean the competition was in Kiev and so you think that they would be super gung ho to play their own anthem.
JESSICA: Yes, exactly!
BLYTHE: Especially with the history between Russia and Ukraine is such that the Ukrainians might possibly view the Russians anthem as a symbol of past oppression. And again, Rizatdinova she kind of said to the media afterwards, “I can’t believe that happened!” So yeah just, oops. Oops moment of the year in gymnastics.
JESSICA: For any other sport, I feel like it could have been a little out of the blue but rhythmic is already so scandal-ridden in every way that no one is ever going to believe that this was just an accident. Which it probably was.
BLYTHE: Yeah it probably was but it just kind of goes to show how you know, you’re at a rhythmic gymnastics competition and everyone down to the organizers is expecting the Russian anthem to play and the Russian gymnast to be at the top. Because it has been like that for years. But maybe we’re just kind of blowing a little organizational snafu into something more. But there are other things that you can read into this if you want to.
JESSICA: Also did you guys see the giant leis on steroids they put on their heads?
BLYTHE: Oh I loved them! The wreaths, the flowers. I thought they were absolutely beautiful. Other thoughts Jessica?
JESSICA: Ok let me just say this. Wreaths of flowers are always beautiful. I mean you can’t go wrong with that. Wreaths of flowers that are so gigantic that they put a shadow over the gymnast’s face when they are having pictures taken, and they are already so tiny that they just dwarf their entire heads is a little much. They were a little too big. Like I loved the idea but they were just enormous. Uncle Tim, did you look at those?
UNCLE TIM: Well I am right now. Yeah those are like Christmas centerpieces on top of their heads. Yeah it’s interesting.
BLYTHE: I like it! There should be more of them!
JESSICA: I do but
BLYTHE: They should give them to the press at competitions.
JESSICA: So Uncle Tim, that wasn’t the only, I mean so many things went wrong at these Worlds. I mean, they might as well have had a bat flying around at this competition. What happened to Yana when she was doing her routine?
UNCLE TIM: Her music skipped during the middle of her ribbon routine and she just kept dancing and going for it. If I recall, according to the FIG News Report, she was allowed to repeat her routine. But yeah, during the original first go at it, her music was skipping and she just kept dancing and working it. I was impressed.
JESSICA: This is the other thing. Her music didn’t just skip once. It skipped like five times in a row. How does that happen when it’s not playing on a record player? What, do they have a gramophone out there? How does your music skip in this day and age? Someone was plugging and unplugging the speakers? “She’s not Russian. Unplug. Plug. Unplug. Plug.” It was just so sad. I just hope these little things don’t happen to make rhythmic look worse because it’s such a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful sport. Some news in the safety for athletes arena. The US Association of Independent Gymnastics Clubs, which is kind of like, it’s kind of a parallel system to USAG. They’re not the official organization for the Olympics but they have their own competitions and national championships and stuff like that. It’s just not the intense training and preparation that USAG has. They have adopted the guidelines of the Safe for Athletes program. So Safe for Athletes, we’ve talked about it on the show before. It’s kind of a comprehensive way of keeping track of your coaches and making sure that there’s no abuse that goes on and providing resources in case there has and checking coaches and making sure they are people who are okay to work with athletes and not have records, that kind of thing. I think it’s kind of closer to what a country like Canada has in place for their coaches in their gyms. So it’s really exciting to see that they’ve adopted that program. It’s pretty comprehensive, kind of setting the gold standard for gymnastics and all sports. So it’s exciting to see that they have done that. And you can check out a link on our site to that. Ok so let’s talk about the Dutch Friendly because there were some badass routines being done. So let’s talk about Becky Downie’s bars first of all because she’s so powerful. She looks like she could just crush the beam or crush the bars, did I say crush the beam. She looks like she could just grab the bar and crush it with one hand, she’s so powerful. So Blythe, what did you think?
BLYTHE: This is a meet of badass routines and Becky Downie is badass. And that bar routine was just exceptionally powerful, exceptionally well swung. She had a bit of a mistake but never mind. It was a great routine even so and we really really hope that she can display something like that at Worlds. And it would be wonderful to see her on the team after her ups and downs as well. You’ve got to watch this routine. The power in her swing and the technique is gorgeous, and the release moves, incredible height.
JESSICA: And Uncle Tim, what did she do again?
UNCLE TIM: So it’s hard to tell from the position of the camera whether she did a Maloney or if she did a Stalder Shaposhnikova, I think it’s called a Chow. But she does that transition up to the high bar into an uprise right away into a Hindorff which is…no one does that. I mean we watched Jordyn Wieber struggle with an uprise into a clear hip pirouette and this is uprise into a release move. So she’s got so much power.
JESSICA: Yeah she pulls that bar so hard. I love powerful bar workers. I love them. It looks like they could wrestle and do gymnastics. That’s my favorite thing. Ok and then oh my God, let’s talk about my favorite, my favorite bar worker who’s like bringing it all together: the old school and new school; the power and the improved form, Ruby Harrold.
UNCLE TIM: I’ll just tell you that she won bars.
BLYTHE: Let me say just one thing. I want to call Ruby Harrold up and coming British bad ass on bars. Becky Downie is British bad ass and Ruby Harrold is up and coming. That’s all I have to say.
UNCLE TIM: Yeah she does one of Jess’s favorite transitions on the uneven bars. She does a Zuchold something. It’s German, Jess. Pronounce it for me.
JESSICA: Ok I have to find her routine on our page where it was written down. You wrote down what it is called and now I cannot find it. Oh, seven more comments that’s why. You guys should totally check out our Facebook page, many comments, many routines. She does a Zuchold-Schoidern. It’s a D. It’s fabulous. Everyone should start doing it. And they should start doing it with a full twist. Or half twist into a Stalder. Oh a girl can dream!
UNCLE TIM: Yeah and she nailed the crap out of her double front dismount. So it was great to see her competing again. The other person who was there was Sandra Izbasa. It’s really the first look at Sandra that we’ve had for 2013. She’s unveiled a new floor routine with the song “Feeling Good” and I wondered what you guys thought of it. Let’s start with you Jess.
JESSICA: (makes snoring sound) So boring. You could put any music in there. It doesn’t matter. Her tumbling yeah. Her tumbling is always good. She has form issues on her twisting which she’s always had. It’s great to see her out there doing this level at her age. She’s an incredible gymnast. But seriously, you could replace that music with anything. I mean it’s “Feeling Good”. Are you kidding me? That is soulful and sultry. She should be slinking around on the floor and oozing sexuality but no. You could put on “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and it would be the exact same routine.
UNCLE TIM: Yeah I kind of agree. She’s what, 23, and still able to do a 6.1 difficulty in her routine on floor. I have to give her credit. It didn’t really make you want to watch her. It wasn’t like oh man I can’t keep my eyes off of her. But yeah, we’ll have to see what happens between now and Antwerp and we’ll also get another look at it at the Romanian Nationals which are this coming weekend.
JESSICA: Yeah I hope she lights a fire in her leo for that routine. Honestly. I mean whatever it takes. It needs something. Besides just talking about our favorite routines
BLYTHE: You know, I kind of like Diana Bulimar’s all around chances. She’s been a little bit overshadowed, even at the European Championships, it was all Iordache, Mustafina, Grishina, and of course those were the top three in the all around. But Bulimar was fourth. She has a double twisting Yurchenko on vault, which is really kind of one the one event, along with bars, where she’s lacking a little bit. But for many years in the Romanian camp now, it’s all been about Iordache and Izbasa and Ponor and I really think that Bulimar goes a bit unnoticed. And we might see that that changes a little bit in Antwerp. You know if other people have an off day, she could really step up and I think be on the all around podium.
BLYTHE: I do.
JESSICA: You think that she can beat Biles’ 60 in the all around? 60.9?
BLYTHE: Oh well I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t know
JESSICA: On the podium. On the podium.
BLYTHE: You don’t know what’s going to happen and she’s a contender. I wouldn’t call her a favorite to win the world title in front of Mustafina and Biles and Ross and Iordache. But she does seem very solid, very consistent and very, very talented. Obviously a very hard worker as well, with some very big skills and so I wouldn’t count her out.
JESSICA: I agree, she could be like, who was the one in Rotterdam, or the last time the worlds were here it was won by a Romanian and she came out of nowhere and she was so totally amazing and she did that mount where she puts her feet behind her head. Oh my God, I can never remember her name.
UNCLE TIM: In 2010, Ana Porgras….
JESSICA: Oh no, like in the 80s. Like 89?
BLYTHE: Aurelia Dobre?
UNCLE TIM: Daniela Silivas?
JESSICA: Dobre! Yes, yes, yes! That’s it, Aurelia Dobre. Huge fail on my part right now. Oh speaking of which, any thoughts on the International Gymnast cover and how they referred to Biles’s win as a, how did they put it, “improbable pluck”? That it was very improbable that she won. I personally, I thought it was a little bit rude. I was just like honestly? That was improbable? Wow. She was basically guaranteed to win if she hit so I was a little taken aback. I didn’t care for that. I did not care for it.
UNCLE TIM: They called it beginner’s pluck.
JESSICA: Beginner’s pluck, ok. And said it was an improbable win. I mean we can all have different opinions, I’m just saying mine was right and theirs was wrong (laughs).
BLYTHE: As an adult gymnast, I feel a lot different both in mind and in body than I did about fifteen years ago. When I walk into the gym today, I want to be sure that my body is going to be protected and that I’m going to be safe, which are two things that I frankly didn’t necessarily think about as a child or as a teenager. That’s why I’m so grateful that my gym has a TumblTrak. It’s forgiving. And yet it gives me the bounce I need to be able to do some of the harder skills, which is very much a win-win. When I tumble on a TumblTrak, I feel safe and that gives me peace of mind in the gym and makes me far more comfortable. I’d recommend it to any older gymnast and so please go ahead and check it out. If you want to learn more about TumblTrak, they have a wonderful website, www.tumbltrak.com. TumblTrak. Do it again.
BLYTHE: Justen Millerbernd’s experience in tumbling goes back to his own elite gymnastics career. Afterwards, he took up coaching and has been just as successful at that as he was as an athlete. Justen has coached four gymnasts to world championships and placed nine athletes on the US national team. But his most successful protégé is three time World Games team member Kalon Ludvigson, who also happens to be the person Justen is closest to in life. When Kalon suffered a debilitating accident a few weeks ago training in Pennsylvania, Justen was right there and has spearheaded Kalon’s recovery in every way possible. He’s here today to talk about Kalon, to give us an update on his condition, and to educate us a little bit more about tumbling, artistic gymnastics’ more powerful cousin. Justen, thank you so much for joining us today. Ok so actually let’s start with Chellsie Memmel if that’s alright. Could you tell us the story about how you recruited her to the elite tumbling scene in the United States?
JUSTEN: Absolutely. Well I’ve known Chellsie for a number of years now through appearances. And I’ve just really stayed in touch with her. I’ve done gymnastics camps with her. Part of my position with USA Gymnastics, I am the tumbling and double mini elite coaches representative. So it’s kind of my responsibility to be the direction for the elite program with national teams, world championships and things like that. You know, Chellsie is obviously a fantastic athlete and her tumbling ability is just phenomenal and I’ve always thought that she would make an excellent, excellent tumbler. Well knowing Chellsie, and after Beijing she had taken a little bit of time to heal from some of her injuries and things like that and I knew she was pushing for London. So I really didn’t want to talk to her too much about tumbling until I knew that she was going to be finished with her artistic career. And once London was over, I gave her a little bit of time before I really wanted to pursue it, just to see. You know, some athletes just want to be done when they’re done. And Chellsie loves the sport of gymnastics so much that, you know I saw her again when she was doing the Pro Gymnastics Challenge and I thought, yep this is a good time to talk to her about it. So I just kind of sent her a quick text like hey how are things? Do you have a rod floor in your gym? She was like no. I went well you really need to think about tumbling now. If it’s something that you’re kind of interested in, I’d be more than happy to help you and point you in the right direction and you know, kind of guide you through it. And she kind of said, well let me think it over. It was about a day and a half later and she texted me back and said yeah I am interested in learning more about it. And from that point, things just really progressed and I happened to be out her way, in the Milwaukee area and stopped by the gym and talked with her and her parents and it was definitely something they were interested in. We were just kind of going step by step by step and now she’s announced that she’s ready to go for it, trying to make a world championship team and that kind of thing. So I’m really excited for her. Her obvious athleticism in the sport is amazing. You know, just because one part of your career might be over, in the gymnastics family, we have so many different options that you can stick with. So I was excited that she had another outlet to do her gymnastics.
BLYTHE: That’s absolutely true. And she wouldn’t be the first artistic gymnast to really successfully make the conversion. I think about Marine Debauve of France, the 2005 European champion in the all around. And she did Beijing and she decided that she wasn’t done with the sport either but she didn’t maybe want to do all four events and so she decided that she would give tumbling a try. And in 2010, she was a world medalist at the world championships in Metz. And so is artistic the way that people tend to discover tumbling? Is that your experience?
JUSTEN: You know, it varies from athlete to athlete. A lot of people think that my athlete Kalon was a former artistic gymnast just because of his body structure. But he was never ever an artistic gymnast, ever since he ventured on to the later part of his career. You do see a lot of crossovers from the artistic program. But in America, it’s not so common. Whereas like you said, Marine Debauve, she’s also a very good friend of ours from tumbling but she was an amazing gymnast. Now also on the French side, there was Marine Boucher, who was I think, I know she was a two time Olympian in artistic gymnastics but also a world championship team member in tumbling and she won many many medals for tumbling. And then back in the 80s, there are many Soviets, Elena Gurova, she was part of the ’87 World Championship team, she transferred over into tumbling. It’s a way that you can take those skills that you have and the love that you have for flying through the air and be able to stick with it. Because tumbling, although most gymnasts use the rod floor because it’s so bouncy, it’s actually not as bouncy as you think it is. It’s a different timing. But it’s easier on the body. It’s easier on the joints. You know, currently in the United States, our top two women are both 38 years old, former Soviet gymnasts, Yuliya Brown and Marina Moskalenko. They’re 38. They’re married. They’re living normal lives. But they’re also still enjoying sports and being very successful. And I think that says something about their desire and passion for gymnastics to be able to continue it, exactly like Oksana Chusovitina, who’s the same age as them, just to be able to continue. If there’s one thing, like you’re not great at bars, there’s always another outlet. I think that’s just amazing.
BLYTHE: What’s the training regimen of a tumbler like? Like you mentioned that the top two women in the United States in tumbling right now are in their 30s and “living normal lives”. And that’s something that we talk about a little bit. It doesn’t seem like in artistic gymnastics all the time that you get to live that normal life. But in tumbling you can.
JUSTEN: Absolutely. Well it’s interesting that ask that because a couple of years ago, there was an NCAA athlete who was very very good at the floor exercise and she had kind of come to me and asked questions about being a tumbler. And I kind of gave her the down low, like what you needed to do and she was concerned that the hours. She was used to training 8 hours a day for elite gymnastics in artistic and in tumbling you don’t. The time requirement isn’t as much. It’s roughly between a three hour practice 4-5 days a week. When you’re younger, coaches will have the athletes train more to learn those skills. Really once you get up to that higher level and you’ve been doing it for a while and you have that experience, it’s just about maintaining your body and physical fitness and pushing through so that you don’t get injured and that type of thing. You carry on your physical fitness.
BLYTHE: Can we talk about the World Games a little bit? We all read the press releases from the FIG and the press releases from USA Gymnastics and we were very sorry that USA Gymnastics decided in the end that maybe the venue wasn’t quite up to par there and that they weren’t going to compete. It’s just a shame because for these athletes, the World Games are like the Olympic Games. Do I have that right?
JUSTEN: That’s correct, yes. The situation in Cali was quite difficult obviously. It is equivalent to the Olympic Games for non-Olympic disciplines. So a lot of these athletes had been training for the past four years of their life for this one chance. Prior to our departure to Cali, we received a notification from the FIG that the facilities were not adequate to their rules. Now there were still a couple of days before the competition was to begin and the organizing committee had reassured everyone that it was going to be taken care of. So we decided as a delegation to go ahead and depart and go to Cali and then make a decision once we were there. Now once we were there, everything for the most part was taken care of. They were really concerned with the temperature in the gym because there was no air conditioning. Well they had brought in several portable air conditioners and so the temperature was under control. And the training area was in a tent kind of outside. And it was a little difficult in the evening because of the lighting wasn’t very adequate. I think that was my only concern. But the hardest part was that they did, the organizing committee did make everything accurate and safe for the athletes to compete in. But the FIG would not, they had issued a waiver releasing all of their responsibility in case someone were to get hurt there. And USA Gymnastics kind of took a stand that ok if you’re saying that the facilities and the conditions are okay, then we don’t need this waiver. We need to take this waiver out. And the FIG just kind of wouldn’t budge on that situation. And ultimately it came down to insurance. If an athlete would have suffered an injury there, we basically were waiving all of our rights to the insurance coverage and everything like that. So in the end, it just pretty much ended up that we, the Americans, were not going to compete. In the beginning, all of the other countries did kind of back off and say that they weren’t going to compete but their insurance companies were contacted and said that they were still covered. And it’s my understanding, I’m not sure, but it’s my understanding that our insurance company would not support that. So our athletes just kind of sat and watched and I have to say they were very very professional athletes. They cheered on their fellow competitors. They were so gracious in the fact that they couldn’t compete but they were really really professional athletes. As a coach, I was so proud of them for just that situation themselves. They really showed that they were classy, classy athletes.
BLYTHE: That’s excellent. And unfortunately, there’s no way to make up those World Games and for the athletes that prepared and didn’t get to compete, it’s very much a shame. You would’ve had no qualms if USA Gymnastics had been okay with signing a waiver or if the FIG hadn’t presented this waiver. You thought that the venue was alright in the end.
JUSTEN: Actually we’ve competed at World Cups in worse situations than that. It was a lot hotter. The equipment was fantastic. We did actually get to have one training session in the training hall and the competition hall and the equipment was fantastic. There was nothing like that. Like I said before with the heat and that kind of thing. So yeah I would have no problem signing it and I know my athletes would have had no problem signing it too. It pretty much came down to the insurance.
BLYTHE: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself? And how you got involved in tumbling. Were you a gymnast, a tumbler yourself?
JUSTEN: As far as competing I was an elite. And I did- I was a junior national champion. And I did kind of all that stuff. And I judged for years and years and I currently hold an FIG brevet. So I do judging as well as coaching. And I also own a gym. So it’s very very busy in my life with gymnastics.
BLYTHE: Would you mind telling us about your own neck injury?
JUSTEN: Sure. After I had retired from trampoline and tumbling, I switched to diving. And we were just doing like a training camp. And I was on the trampoline going from the trampoline to a resi pit. And I just- since it wasn’t my normal training gym, you do a lot of eye spotting. So I was counting the trampoline as I was flipping. And I mistakenly counted the ceiling on my last flip and just opened up with my chin kind of tucked under and had a little bit of some fracturing in my C 4, 5, and 6. So they ended up fusing it and then I recovered and it hasn’t given me problems since.
BLYTHE: I see. What’s the recovery process like after you go through a fusion like that?
JUSTEN: My recovery was very unusual. I didn’t really do a whole lot. I had a very good friend of mine who was going through massage therapy school at the same time, so she kind of massaged my neck back to where it needed to be. And 30 days after I was initially injured, I was back in the gym. I was doing standing back tucks and stuff like that. So I was back to where I could flip around again even though the doctors had told me it was kind of not [LAUGHS] possible to do it. I kind of pushed through and wanted to prove I could get back to where I was. So I did that. And after I was back at that point I then retired.
BLYTHE: I see. Yeah. Yeah that makes sense. But hey power to you for saying to yourself, “I need to show myself that I can still do it and I can move on.”
JUSTEN: Yeah. Thanks, yeah.
BLYTHE: I’d really like now to pass on to what happened to Kalon. And well, you know there’s been a little bit of press from- I’ve read at least one newspaper article about it. And I’ve read the USA Gymnastics press releases. And I was hoping you could just sort of tell us what happened from your own point of view. I think that our listeners really like to hear that.
JUSTEN: Yeah absolutely. You know I’ve been Kalon’s coach for quite some time now. And Kalon has a spacial awareness that’s just unheard of that I’ve- I mean I’ve worked with hundreds and hundreds of athletes throughout my coaching career. And with Kalon I’ve never- he’s never been like one of those scary athletes that you just- he always, he was very sure of himself. And when you watched him you knew that he was very sure of himself too. So we were at a sports camp and he was training and the last- it was the last session of the evening. It was his last turn. He had previously completed the skill that he was training. It was just a pass and he was on the tumbl trak into a resi pit. And it was his last turn of the evening and he just under rotated just a bit when he was landing. And it was just enough that he was on the back of his neck. Initially he didn’t know what had happened and that type of thing. And so I took care of him. I didn’t allow anyone to move him. I think that’s the biggest thing. They always teach you that in the safety courses and things like that but in a situation like that you have to make sure nobody moves or touches an athlete that you are unsure of what their injury is. You’re not a doctor, you’re a coach. But you have to remember that. And then you know just the biggest thing was we wanted to make sure no further injury was going to happen. So the paramedics came and they then transported him to the Geisinger Health Center and that’s where we found out after an x-ray that he had dislocated his C-5 and it had jumped to the C-6. So when it did that, it caused a spinal cord compression which caused the temporary paralysation from the chest down. And after reviewing it, they decided it was best to go ahead and align it back into place where it was supposed to be. And then kind of see where he came through with that. So after they did that it was very successful. The vertebrae was aligned. And they noticed the spinal cord had not been severed which was a very good thing. It had just been compressed or pinched. So it caused it to swell. And that swelling in the spinal cord causes it to block all the nerves and sensation and everything like that. So then they did notice on that second MRI that there was a little bit of a bulging disc that was putting some pressure on the spinal cord. So they weren’t sure if it was going to help, but they said it wasn’t going to hurt if he had a second surgery and had the disc taken out. So they did provide two physicians that kind of gave us both situations of what could and could happen. But it was, I mean the main thing they said was it would not hurt him any more. So we went ahead with the surgery then. It was very successful. They took out the disc and it reduced some pressure on the spinal cord. And at this point then he was transferred to Geisinger in Pennsylvania out to the Craig Hospital in Denver where it’s the best spinal cord rehabilitation center in the country.
BLYTHE: So what is his condition right now?
JUSTEN: Right now he can move his upper body. From his chest up he has all feeling and movement. He is lacking fine motor skills, so the movement of his fingers for right now. As far as his chest down, he had no feeling and no movement initially. But as the swelling has decreased, it started with this toes first. He could feel his toes. Then he could feel the arch in his foot. Then he could feel his ankle joints. And then he could feel his achilles. And right now we’re up to he can feel his calf. So it’s a day by day kind of process. One of the nurses told us don’t go day by day, count it as hour by hour because that’s really how things change. And they progress. And with the swelling it could take up to six months for it to even go down, and from there then he has to relearn how to use all of his muscles and things like that. So at this point, we’re all very hopeful that he’s going to have a full recovery and be able to walk and live a normal life again. But it’s not for certain. It’s not- there are no guarantees. But that’s kind of where he’s at right now.
BLYTHE: That does sound very positive. And you know since the announcement of what happened, everyone has been in the gymnastics community sending lots of thoughts and prayers and good vibes and everything your way. But for Kalon this must be incredibly difficult to go from being this amazing tumbler with a super spacial awareness to being in the hospital and wondering what your life is going to look like maybe in 3-6 months. That has to be awful. Can you tell us just how he’s been coping with it?
JUSTEN: Absolutely. You hit it right on the head. That’s exactly, I mean his whole life has pretty much been centered around his career and his body. And he’s dealing with it as well as he can. There are up days and there are down days. And what I just keep telling him is he’s in fight right now. He’s in a fight to finish through this. And just stay with it. And you know Kalon’s dedication, his perseverance, his hard work ethic has just been unmatched in any athlete that I’ve ever seen before. And that’s what’s going to serve him so well in this new recovery. It’s just like training. It’s exactly like training. There’s going to be up days. There’s going to be down days. And he’s going to have to fight to get through those. And I think if anyone can do it, it’s going to be Kalon. You know he is so strong. I know it’s tough to tell, but I just know if anyone has a better outcome or outlook on all this, it’ll be Kalon. He’s the one that I just- it’s hard to explain. You just know. [LAUGHS] So that’s kind of where we’re hoping for right now.
BLYTHE: And what has been the most helpful or encouraging form of support that you’ve both received so far?
JUSTEN: Oh boy. Well you know it’s difficult. I’m not an emotional person regularly. But this just- athletes, coaches, officials from around the world that have sent us well wishes, but then also have kind of donated to his recovery, but then have also spread the word about his recovery, has just been overwhelming. And you know I cry tears and tears over it just because it’s so amazing to know that Kalon and I both have touched a lot of people’s lives. And you don’t realize it till something tragic like this happens. Because once it happens the amount of support coming in is just overwhelming. And I think that’s been the most amazing thing you know. He gets really excited and he feels that support is helping him through, pushing him to get better. So I think that’s kind of- doesn’t really answer your question, but is kind of a broad spectrum of what we’re experiencing right now.
BLYTHE: When something like this happens, you would sort of think that there would be insurance that would step in and cover everything. And yet that doesn’t seem to be the case.
JUSTEN: Right now the insurance is a very difficult process, as anyone who’s ever dealt with insurance knows. There are three different policies that are in effect. He has his personal insurance, then there are some coverages through USA Gymnastics. So some things are being covered, we’re just not sure of how much and what the extent is. Now we’ve been told that it is right now that the insurance will cover 40 days of rehab. The rehabilitation here. And Kalon could need from three months to six months to 12 months of therapy. And that’s where we don’t know. It’s going to depend on what his progress is. And the hard part is is that once that insurance runs out, then we’re stuck in a situation of what’s the best thing for Kalon. Because obviously the hospital can’t keep him unless he’s paying for it. And we just don’t know what the future is going to hold. And that’s why we’re trying to raise so much money as it is right now because we’ve been here for about 10 days and so now we really only have 30 days left. And you know he’s just beginning his therapy process and it’s going to be a fight to finish through it. And he’s going to need more than what the insurance is going to claim to pay for right now. So that’s why we’re trying to raise so much money. This is the best place for Kalon to be and this is where he needs to be. I know all the supporters and family and everyone, everyone wants him to be and get the best of the best. Because you know for Kalon, a lot of people I mean, he is the best of the best. So they want to support that. That’s why it’s been so great for them to really get behind and support and do what they can. So it’s going to be a fight, it’s the hardest fight of his life so far.
BLYTHE: Absolutely. And I’m sure you yourself can share your own story with him and that must be- it must be just I don’t know, unsayable how much that that helps him.
JUSTEN: Yeah. It does in a way. I didn’t receive any type of paralysis. So that’s just what he keeps remembering in his version of it. Well you didn’t- you weren’t paralyzed right away and that type of thing. And we try to keep things light and happy for him. And I said hey we have matching scars now though.
JUSTEN: We try to keep it light. And I tell him he had to one up me because the second surgery they did, they did through the front of his neck. So we have the same scar in the back but he had to one up me and get one in the front now. [LAUGHS]
BLYTHE: And so right now just to recap, it’s basically kind of a waiting game. You need to see what’s possible as the swelling goes down. And hopefully as the swelling goes down the feeling comes back.
JUSTEN: That’s exactly what they told us. And that’s just, you know we’ve heard so many different things from doctors. And it’s been so difficult to really kind of take it all in. But for me the only thing that I really have taken in is the spinal cord was not severed. And that gives so much hope. And that’s exactly what I’m staying with is anything is possible and Kalon is working and he’s- I just believe he can get behind this and do it. And whatever the outcome is, he’s going to be fantastic with whatever he does. So that’s where I’m at.
BLYTHE: This will probably be a difficult question, but as a coach and as an integral part of USA Gymnastics’ T&T program, how do you respond to prospective athletes and parents who come to you and say, “How can I know that this is safe for my child when you have a very top athlete in this sport who has this accident and you yourself has had this accident? How am I going to be able to sleep at night thinking my child is involved in this sport when that could happen to them?”
JUSTEN: Right. And that’s interesting you say that, because I just met with my own personal team just last night. And met with all the parents. And this is exactly what I explained to them. In a sport like this, you never know the risks. But that’s also in life. You never know where getting in that car, you’re not going to be in a car wreck that has the same situation. You never know what life is going to be around the corner. Kalon was never an unsafe athlete. His motions, his training, his preparation, and the same thing with me I’ve never been an unsafe coach. And because of my previous neck injury, I’ve been more cautious with my athletes in training. This honestly was just a simple freak accident. It wasn’t anything that you know, he was close to landing like this in other situations and things like that. And so I just say you know I’m sure all of you are thinking this could happen to your child, but in reality it could happen anywhere. I mean they could fall off of a bed. There are so many stories here at the hospital that we’ve seen where people are just- one patient is here that sat in a chair and the chair tipped over backward and broke their neck. It’s just a situation of a freak accident. And that can happen anywhere in life. And if this is something their children still love and enjoy and want to do, they should still have the opportunity to.
BLYTHE: Is there any way that you can think of to make the sport easier to decrease the risk even more? Because I know these days with resi pits and things like that you already have a low probability of having something like this happen. But can you think of any ways that it could be made even more safe?
JUSTEN: I think education amongst the coaches and parents and athletes. Just about proper strengthening like wrist taping and that kind of thing. I mean you’re talking about Kalon here who was at the very top of the worldwide program. And pushing the limits of skills and things like that. And that’s not going to happen with everyone all the time. I feel like as a whole, our program is very safe. Trampolines, resi pits, foam pits, all that stuff. It is very safe in the context where our coaches do have the education and the parents do trust those coaches to push through. You don’t see this type of injury very often. It is very rare. And I know USA Gymnastics has done everything they can, they’ve been so wonderful with us, working with what we need, what we can do and that type of thing. As far as what can be done, I don’t think a whole lot actually can be done. I think it’s just like I said this was just a freak accident. And most situations like this are.
BLYTHE: You know lastly really what I’d like to ask you is, as we said at the top of the show here we really love love stories. And so maybe we were hoping you could talk a little bit about you and Kalon and how you met and your life together basically.
JUSTEN: Yeah. Well the situation was when Kalon came into my program, he was a very talented athlete. And we spent a lot of time together. And when you spend a lot of time with someone like that, you bond. And you- it’s funny because Svetlana Boginskaya asked me the same question [LAUGHS] how did this all happen. And we kind of looked at each other and said we don’t really know. We don’t really remember when it first started or how it started or anything like that. It’s just something that you know. And it’s- we share the same interests, a common bond, and we’re always together. And the situation like Kalon and myself, we have a lot of friends that are couples too that say how do you guys be together? Because we’re in the gym together all day, we’re home together, we’re together all the time. And people want to know how do we do it. And of course in any relationship there’s work to be done. But we really just we love each other and we love being with each other and that’s something that’s been amazing. And you know not only are we in love, but he’s my best friend too. So how amazing to go on this whole journey of his elite career, going all these places, celebrating these victories together, and just to have each other. And right now we’re so close and we- I know that with each other we can get through anything.
BLYTHE: I’ve got to ask was there ever a moment where you’re like oh no, I don’t know if I can do like both of these things. Be the coach and be the partner. And did you ever think god I should stop coaching him or he should find another coach or something like that? Or did it always just kind of work?
JUSTEN: [LAUGHS] Well it’s funny you say that because there were definitely times where I thought oh boy, this is difficult. But we were married five years ago. And the relationship that we have is when we would walk into the gym, I was coach, he was athlete. And that was always how the understanding was. So when I was coaching him and I was as a coach you have to get after your athlete sometimes, it was never personal. He never thought that I was just doing something because he didn’t do the dishes that day or something like that you know? It was never anything like that. And I do have to say that I was able to push him a little harder because of our relationship. Because he knew I wanted the best for him no matter what. I was able to coach him a little bit more strictly than you would have coached someone else. And I do believe that’s why he was more successful than other situations. He’s had other coaches and things like that, but it’s not an easy role but it’s also not so- you know it’s hard to not take it home with you too. Because there would be days when he would be frustrated, and come home and not be frustrated with me but be frustrated in general. And it’s hard to turn that off. But we really learned to have two separate relationships if that makes any sense at all.
BLYTHE: And one other thing we wanted to ask you, Justen, is how can we- maybe you could tell us exactly where we could go to donate to Kalon. And if you are on Twitter, how we can follow you. That kind of thing.
JUSTEN: Right. There has been an online fund set up for him. It’s at gofundme.com/kalonludvigson. And it’s just his name Kalon Ludvigson. And Kalon doesn’t have a Twitter, but he has a Facebook fan page. And that’s pretty much where they’ve been posting all of the updates and things like that. And it’s just facebook.com/kalonludvigsonathlete.
BLYTHE: Excellent. And are you on Twitter yourself?
JUSTEN: There is a Team Revolution Twitter. It’s _TeamRevolution.
JESSICA: And then I just want to tell you I just through this interview I can just see why you’ve risen to the position you are in USA Gymnastics. Because honestly you’re going through what’s gotta be one of the most difficult traumatic things of your life, and you just gave a kickass interview. Like great great interview. And were so poised and just it’s fascinating and now I want to go start a tumbling class.
JUSTEN: [LAUGHS] Well you know it’s really funny because everyone keeps asking me how are you holding up? How are you holding up? I will tell you the day after it happened I broke down and cried the entire day. I didn’t stop crying. I literally sobbed my eyes out for a whole day. And after that it was over. I just realized that no matter what, I have to be strong for him. I can’t break down in front of him and let him know that I am having these bad days because really what he’s going through is nothing compared to what I’m going through. So I have to be strong for him and that’s the only thing I can do. And I love him so much that I would do anything for him. So putting my pain aside I have to be strong for him. So that’s just where I’m at right now. Because everyone’s like how are you so calm and handling this. And I’m like really what other option do I have? I can sit here and cry over it and bawl and be upset and sad and depressed, but how is that going to help him? It’s not. It won’t help him at all. So that’s kind of the outlook I’ve taken.
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JESSICA: It’s time for listener feedback. We have a very special request this week. It is going to be our one year anniversary on September- Uncle Tim what day is it? September-
UNCLE TIM: I don’t know
JESSICA: September 18th? 16th? I don’t know. It’s coming up soon. So what we want to know from you is what have been your favorite moments from the past year? Is there a favorite interview? Is there a favorite moment between the hosts? Is there a favorite quote from someone? Information you found out? What was just your favorite thing over the last year? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or of course you can always call the hotline and leave a message that we can play on the show. Our number is 415-800-3191 or if you’re out of the country and want to call for free, call us on Skype. Our username is Gymcastic Podcast. And yeah let us know what you liked over the last year and we can do a little rundown. We’ll do our own favorite moments from the past year. Uncle Tim who is our international listener of the week shoutout going to this week?
UNCLE TIM: This one’s a little bit belated but it goes out to Kristina. She’s from Puerto Rico which is kind of international, kind of not international for the United States. But it’s going to her because she uploaded so many videos of the Pan American Championships. So if you watched Victoria Moors’ double double that was thanks to Kristina. So thank you Kristina for all your hard work.
JESSICA: And thank you also to everybody that wrote in and asked us what do you think of the Alexandrov interview. All of your feedback inspired us to get in touch with Elizabeth and ask her about her fantastic blog and the process of getting that great interview. And she will be on the show next week. And we have a really interesting conversation not only about the state of Russian gymnastics but also the power of the gymternet and the gym fans to make change and for people to be heard who maybe didn’t have a platform before. So it’s a really interesting conversation. Look forward to that next week. Until next week remember that you can support the show by writing a review on iTunes. Tell the whole world what you think of our show on iTunes or just hit the little button and rate us. You can subscribe on iTunes. You can use the donate button on the show. You can shop in the store. You can download the Stitcher app. And of course we try to link to all the routines and any blogs or interviews that we are referring to on the show so you can visit our site to check that out. And of course we have transcripts up on the website as well. You can also find our archives there. Until next wweek I’m Jessica O’Beirne from masters-gymnastics.com
BLYTHE: I’m Blythe from the Gymnastics Examiner
UNCLE TIM: And I’m Uncle Tim from Uncle Tim Talks Men’s Gym
JESSICA: See you next week!
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