Project Polymath’s vision is to create a whole army of da Vincis, spreading across the world with their diverse skills and talents in art, music, medicine, mathematics, science, and many other fields of study. Since Leonardo da Vinci was from another time and culture, though, I have wondered what form modern polymaths might take. I thought back to my days as a gymnast and realized that I already knew of at least one: Amy Chow, Olympic champion gymnast, concert pianist, elite-level diver, and doctor.
During the summer of 1996, I watched the USA Olympic Team Trials. I was twelve years old, I made straight A’s in school, and I very much enjoyed my piano lessons and gymnastics classes. So, of course I took note when the commentators talked about Amy Chow and her elite-level piano skills, her 4.0 GPA, and her daring tricks on the vault, bars, beam, and floor. (Her skill level was much more impressive than mine.) On the second day of the Olympic Trials, she fell off the beam and hit her head, but she finished the routine (by the end of the competition, one could see a purple bruise right by her eye). Because of her perseverance, she made the Olympic team, and I was even more amazed on the night I saw her and her teammates make history by winning America’s first team gold medal in gymnastics.
Amy became a two-time Olympian in 2000, after which she went to medical school at Stanford University and specialized in pediatrics. In more recent years, Amy has done both diving and pole-vaulting. Her skills in gymnastics lent very well to other sports and helped her go from recreational-level diving to national-level diving in approximately a year’s time. She may have even advanced to the 2012 Olympic Trials for diving, had she not suffered an injury prior to the meet.
Amy summed up the heart of the polymathic pursuit when she said, “I like learning new things”.¹ She has described integrating and synthesizing her areas of expertise; she has a particular interest in sports medicine and helping children enjoy a healthy, meaningful athletic experience.² She sets goals that are high but realistic for her, and she then takes the steps necessary to pursue them. From her experiences, she has learned important life skills, including responsibility, dedication, problem solving, perseverance, and teamwork.² Any budding polymath would do well to emulate these qualities.
¹ Palo Alto Medical Foundation. (2012). “Amy Y. Chow, MD, FAAP.” Retrieved 4 January 2012 from http://www.pamf.org/dr-amy-chow.html .
² Peters, Keith. (2011). Olympian Amy Chow dives into a new challenge. Palo Alto Online Sports. Retrieved 4 January 2012 from http://www.paloaltoonline.com/news/show_story.php?id=21806 .