By Aram Arkun
CLEVELAND, Ohio — Houry Gebeshian parlayed years of hard work and dedication into an opportunity to make history and compete at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games at Rio de Janeiro.
An Armenian-American, she became the first female gymnast to represent the Republic of Armenia. She now is in great demand as an inspirational speaker. She came to the Boston area at the end of September for several speaking engagements, as well as to receive the Leadership in Fortitude Award from the Armenian International Women’s Association.
This summer, Gebeshian was in Brazil for about three weeks. She said, “The first week I was there was all practice, getting used to the equipment, area and arena.”
After the opening ceremony, she competed on day two of the Olympic games. She stayed the rest of the time at the Games, and did not sightsee, because, she said, “I could go to Rio or Brazil any day of the week. I wanted to soak in as much of the Olympic experience as I could, so I went to as many events as Rio [games] had to offer.”
She stayed most of the time at the Olympic village. There were 33 athletes in all competing for Armenia at Rio, but all were from the Republic of Armenia except herself. There were also Brazilian Armenians, especially from Sao Paulo, who came to watch the games.
She may not have won any medals, but Gebeshian accomplished a great deal in Rio. She had a skill, the Gebeshian, named after herself. To do this, she first submitted a new routine on the uneven bars to the technical committee on the women’s side of the Federation of International Gymnastics. They approved it and gave it a value in terms of points. She then successfully used it in the Olympic competition, which means that is entered into the rulebook under the name she chose, the Gebeshian.
She successfully called world attention to developing gymnastics in Armenia by her presence. Even her attire played a part in this, as she wore a custom-made leotard. Gebeshian said, “My sponsor, Ozone Leotard, an American-based leotard company, had told me I could design whatever leotard I wanted. I created a contest for my fans to send in their ideas for leotards, and I picked the one I liked best. Somebody suggested a landscape of Mount Ararat, so I thought why don’t I do the landscape in rhinestones.” Ozone Leotard liked this idea too, and Gebeshian ended up in an all-white leotard with Mount Ararat proudly emblazoned on her chest and the Armenian tricolor on her arm.
Gebeshian was so happy while completing her performance in the Olympics that she ended up kissing and hugging the bars and the equipment. She said, “It was completely spontaneous. I started on the bars. I hit the ‘Gebeshian.’ I had an excellent routine. I was just overcome with all these emotions. I was so excited and so thankful that I wanted to show my love and appreciation for the sport. I hugged the bar and gave it a kiss. Then I thought I can do this for all the events. Gymnastics has given me so much.”
She added, “I had the best competition in my life. I think I made Armenia proud. I made the coaches proud, and I personally was proud of myself.”
Perhaps her most important achievement was that she set a goal for herself that might seem daunting to most. She was an underdog defying the odds. As a 27-year-old, she was older than the average Olympic gymnast, and had to fund and coach herself, while working as a physician’s assistant, yet she managed to qualify for the Olympics through perseverance and planning. She said, “I had the work ethic to make that dream happen. I don’t only want little girls to be inspired to do what I did. I want everybody to be inspired to realize their dreams.”
It is this message that she now imparts when asked to speak. She said, “I go to many places, such as churches, schools, gyms, hospitals, and physician assistant programs. The moral is the same: it is never too late to live your dream. Write a book, become a chef — you are not too old, you are not too late. You just have to know what your goal is and to make it happen. It will be hard but if it is your passion, you can do it.”
Gebeshian said that she was getting a lot of positive feedback, not just from the Armenian-American community but in Armenia as well. The Armenian men’s gymnastics coaches were particularly pleased. Her GoFundMe website has gotten a surge of new donations in support of an Armenian women’s gymnastics program.
Gebeshian is now working on creating business plan for this program. She wants there to be a national team for Armenia, though it probably will start with Armenian Americans.
She herself will stop competing professionally. She said, “I had a dream and a goal, and I accomplished that goal. I did everything that I sought to do. I am now at a point in my career where I can close that chapter and move on to the next one.” She will continue to work at a hospital as a physician’s assistant while advocating for Armenia women’s gymnastics, mentoring and coaching – and continuing to inspire.