Roanoke Times
                 Copyright (c) 1995, Landmark Communications, Inc.

DATE: THURSDAY, July 28, 1994                   TAG: 9407280099
SOURCE: Associated Press
DATELINE: KANSAS CITY, MO.                                  LENGTH: Medium


SHE WAS BEAUTIFUL at 4 foot 10 and 95 pounds. But the winning athlete spent her last years in misery. Somebody, once, said she was fat.

Christy Henrich was a fierce competitor - a ``bull,'' a ``tank'' whose nickname was E.T., for Extra Tough. But by 1990, the 4-foot-10 gymnast was so weak from eating disorders that she withdrew from competition.

On Tuesday, she died at age 22.

A victim of anorexia nervosa and bulimia, Henrich died of multiple organ system failure after more than two weeks in the hospital. Research Medical Center wouldn't say how much she weighed at her death, but she had wasted away to 60 pounds a year ago.

``She was an extremely strong person. She was a bull, just a tank,'' said her former coach, Al Fong, who became estranged from the Henrich family after confronting the teen-ager in 1989 about her eating problems.

``I kicked her out of the gym for her own good,'' he said. ``I said, `You're going to kill yourself.' She was throwing herself into the equipment because she couldn't do the routines. I set up all these appointments with the nutritionists, and then I found out she wasn't attending those sessions.''

Henrich had missed making the 1988 Olympic team by 0.118 of a point. Acutely disappointed, she aimed for the 1992 trials. But in between, the vicious cycle of anorexia and bulimia - starvation and vomiting whatever food is eaten - took over.

She withdrew from a competition in the fall of 1990 and retired from gymnastics in January 1991. She was among the top 10 of U.S. gymnasts at the time, but was too weak to compete.

``My life is a horrifying nightmare,'' she said then. ``It feels like there's a beast inside of me, like a monster. It feels evil.''

The dieting frenzy began after a judge in an international competition in 1988 told Henrich - who weighed 93 pounds at the height of her career - that she needed to watch her weight.

Fong described the judge in Budapest, Hungary, as a ``nice old lady'' who had made an offhand remark. ``It was perceived by [Henrich] as `You're too fat to be an Olympic gymnast,''' the coach said.

Over the past three years, local TV interviews had shown the Olympic hopeful wasting away, often with her mother, Sandy, by her side, vowing to help her daughter through the ordeal.

A year ago, Henrich was briefly hospitalized and began seeing a psychiatrist. Recently, she had stopped seeing the psychiatrist, Dr. Gail Vaughn.

``I worked with her for about three months, and she seemed to be doing pretty good when she let me go,'' Vaughn said. ``She was getting better there for a while.''

Ultimately, no one could help Henrich, not her fiance or family members, who had nurtured her dream since she began training at age 4.

``She was always hopping around, hanging onto things,'' her mother recalled in a 1989 interview with The Kansas City Star. ``She couldn't get enough of it.''

No one answered the telephone at Henrich's home Wednesday.

Henrich had won six international championships by the time she left junior high school in 1987. She made the decision then to work full time on gymnastics, taking her high school classes with a tutor.

``I want it so bad,'' she said in 1988, at age 15. ``I know I have a chance for the Olympics, and that gets me fired up.''

Her life revolved around a three-hour practice session beginning at 6:30 a.m., and another at night lasting nearly until 10 p.m. In between, she did her school work.

``She was a tremendous young athlete,'' Fong said. ``She was a role model. She was a likable kid. She was the kind of person who could not see an obstacle that she could not get over. She would see an obstacle and say, `I can do that.'''


Memo: a longer version ran in the State edition.

by CNB