We sit down with Armenia’s Houry Gebeshian about her past, and incredible determination to become an Olympian.
PunchFront: At what age did you start gymnastics?
I started gymnastics at age 5 at Massachusetts Gymnastics Center in Waltham, Massachusetts.
PunchFront: Which gymnasts did you look up to?
When I was a young gymnast I looked up to one of the older girls at my home gym, Nicole Langevin. She was always so poised and elegant which is fitting because she now has her own choreography company, Precision Choreography. We were able to reconnect after all these years for her to personally choreograph my current beam and floor routine as well as custom cut my floor music. She has done a phenomenal job. Another idol of mine was, and still is, 1996 Olympic gold medalist Dominique Moceanu. I remember watching the 1996 Olympic Games and feeling connected to her as she was the smallest on the team and of eastern European descent similar to me. Her favorite event was the balance beam which has always been my favorite as well. She was also known for being a fierce competitor which inspired me to do the same.
PunchFront: After competing for Iowa, what brought you back to gymnastics, and drive you to compete at the elite level?
I took a very untraditional path into elite gymnastics. Most girls will try elite in their younger years and then pursue collegiate gymnastics. Very few will go back to elite gymnastics after college. I made it to level 10 by the end of high school. I then competed as an all-around gymnast for the University of Iowa. Following my collegiate carrer, I thought I would give elite gymnastics a try. I was actually sought out by a member of the Armenian Olympic Committee. He stated that Armenia needed more female representation in athletics and thought I could do it. So at age 22, I had my debut to elite gymnastics at the 2011 World Championships. Due to a stress fracture in my foot, I was forced to compete suboptimally. This led me to miss qualifying to the 2012 Olympic Test Event by one spot, shattering my dream of competing at the 2012 Olympic Games. After that disappointment, I quit the sport, and decided to move on with my life and pursue my career in medicine as a physician assistant. At the beginning of my second year of graduate school, I met my now fiance Duane, who was the one to encourage me to return to the sport. He was a collegiate football player, with prospects of playing professionally, but ended his career due to an injury. I had a very similar story and through reminiscing about our pasts, a flame was lit inside me and I knew I had to return. I felt unfinished and I knew I still had fight left in me. If I didn’t try for the Olympics again I would have regretted it forever. I decided to make my comeback on July 18, 2013 but I wasn’t able to step foot in a gym to legitimately start training until July 7, 2014. It was a challenge to come back having taken a 3 year hiatus from the sport. I was out of shape, didn’t have a coach, and wasn’t sure where to start. But I went into the gym every day with the new goal of the 2016 Olympic Games in mind. My hope was to get all the skills back that I originally had and I succeeded!
PunchFront: Could you describe the difference between competing for Iowa & the international elite level?
It is definitely different competing in the international elite world compared to the NCAA world. In college, I always had my teammates around. Once I stepped into elite gymnastics, I was alone. That was scary and lonely, but I knew it was something I had to do. Being an Iowa Hawkeye was an honor and I am always proud to say that I am a University of Iowa Alumnus. My experiences as a Hawkeye helped me mature both as an athlete and as a woman. Joining the collegiate team immediately introduced me to a family of lifetime friends. They taught me how to work as a team member and also how to inspire others as a team leader. Competing in the all-around every weekend for 13 weeks is tough on the body and the mind but all worth it when you are able to share the individual and team successes with your GymHawk family. Competing during international events are definitely more tense feeling but I always try and brighten the mood or decrease the tension with cheering and encouraging a team like atmosphere with the other girls in my mixed group. Competing for the Republic of Armenia is a different honor. I always feel a sense of pride when I wear our national colors out on the competition floor especially now that I am the first female gymnast to represent the Republic of Armenia at the Olympic Games.
PunchFront: Besides qualifying for the 2016 Olympics, what is your proudest achievement in gymnastics?
My proudest moment in my gymnastics career was becoming the Big Ten Conference Champion on the balance beam in 2010. Soon it will be competing at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.
PunchFront: You work full time, and self funded. Can you describe a typical day for you running up to the Olympics?
I am a physician assistant who works for the Cleveland Clinic in the department of surgery on the labor and delivery floor. It’s a birthday every day at my job! I work a 24 hour shift on Sunday and a 16 hour night shift on Wednesday night, which adds up to a 40 hour full-time work week. Throughout the night I will see whichever patients are admitted to the labor and delivery floor to have their babies, and perform a complete history and physical. If they are in need of a c-section, I will assist in the operating room for their delivery. A typical work day will end at 7 am. I will take a 3 hour nap from about 7:30 am – 10:30 am then head straight to the gym. I will then practice for 4-5 hours from about 11:30 am – 4:30 pm. I’ll get home around 5-5:30 pm and start making dinner. My favorite part of the day is when my fiancee and I sit down for dinner and catch up on each other’s days. After dinner, I usually work on the computer doing promotional things, homework for my social marketing class, work out plans, meal ideas, writing e-mails, catching up on bills, or other general life tasks. I try and get to bed by 10:30 pm. Lucky for me, I have the next couple of days to recover before working again so I allow myself to sleep in a bit before doing it all over again!
PunchFront: Why do you think it is Armenia is supporting a men’s gymnastics team, but not a woman’s gymnastics team?
Historically, men have dominated the sport of gymnastics in Armenia. Therefore, nearly all of the funding has gone to developing their men’s program as they have the most promise for international recognition and medal contention. I have had to fund myself on this journey. Although, through my athletic success, I hope to prove to the Armenian Gymnastics Federation that a women’s team could represent the country as well as the men’s team. I have started a fundraiser, which can be found at www.gofundme.com/HootingForHoury, to help kick start the growth of Armenian women’s gymnastics. I really believe that my success in securing an Olympic berth will help promote Armenian gymnastics. This is just the beginning, and I cannot wait to see Armenia women, alongside our men, become legitimate contenders in the international gymnastics scene.
PunchFront: Is there anything else you would like to add?
The greatest accomplishments are usually those accomplished by a strong team. Although gymnastics is usually viewed as an individual sport, I could never have made this experience a reality without the help of everyone in my life. From the beginning, my family supported my dream and made the sacrifices that come with being a competitive gymnast. My home gym, Massachusetts Gymnastics Center, gave me a very strong foundation to grow from. My experiences at the University of Iowa helped refine my confidence as a woman and athlete. Precision Choreography tirelessly worked to create routines that showcased my talents. Gymnastics World in Cleveland, Ohio graciously allowed me the time and space to train during my comeback. Ozone Leotards sponsored beautiful custom made leotards and warm ups. Levon Karakhanyan helps organize my involvement with the Armenian Gymnastics Federation and travels with me to competitions. My boss and co-workers at the Cleveland Clinic adjust their lives and schedules to accommodate my second life as an Olympic athlete. Lastly, my friends, family, and the Armenian community has been so supportive and encouraging throughout this incredible journey to the Olympics. None of this could have been possible without the support of everyone in my corner. I am forever grateful.