Cover of Maggie Nichols' book, Unstoppable

Review: Unstoppable by Maggie Nichols

Content warning: sexual abuse, eating disorders

Something I have noticed after years of interviewing elite athletes is a tendency they have to speak in inspirational soundbites. I think it’s sometimes a way of underplaying some of the hardships that they endured on their rise, even though most people know an athlete is made, not born. It can also be a way of steering a conversation away from the negative and toward the positive. Many of these athletes are trained not to dwell on mistakes and to focus on winning, and it often shows when you ask them to reflect on something difficult—an injury, a fall at a critical time, not making either a team or a lineup. 

Maggie Nichols’ memoir, Unstoppable, which was released Jan. 16, 2024, is a study in the technique. While she discusses her career lowlights and goes into detail about the abuse she suffered under Larry Nassar as well as its repercussions, her focus, overall, is on her successes. To that end, she even veers at times into braggadocio—and you know what? Good for her. Women are often told to downplay their achievements or attribute them to luck, and to hear an athlete say something along the lines of “I’m good and I know it” is refreshing. I can see how it may annoy some; however, I personally find an elite athlete attributing her rise solely to chance or happenstance much more annoying.

In Nichols’ case, I think there is also a touch of “People didn’t think I’d be able to come back from THIS”—her knee injuries in elite, the abuse, not making the 2016 Olympic team—and even though we know how her story ultimately turns out, her tenacity and drive are impressive. An audience of young girls, in particular, need to hear female athletes speak like this about their work.


To that point, though, this is ostensibly a young adult book, targeting teenagers—the audience that would have been young girls during Nichols’ elite run and college career. The writing, however, seems far more juvenile, aimed more at what the publishing industry calls “middle grade” and the rest of us call “tweens.” That’s where I struggle to recommend it, because Nichols’s discussions of food, dieting, and exercise in her memoir are unsettling at best and dangerous at worst. And without the ability to take a longer look at her full career, and if you’re looking for ways to support the myth that gymnasts need to be thin and malnourished to succeed, they’re all here in black and white. 

The very first paragraph of Nichols’s preface notes that she was willing to sacrifice food for gymnastics. A chapter perversely titled “Body Positivity” discusses a diet Nichols went on early in her elite career that was almost entirely protein-based and that caused serious digestive issues. At one point, she discusses her return to elite competition after injury in 2015. “I was super lean and super ripped,” she said, and that’s the lead-in to her most successful year of elite gymnastics. At the world championships that year, she said, “I was really teeny, and I intended to stay that way.” 

Food, or lack thereof, is never to blame for Nichols’ poor performances or her not making the Olympic team. Quite the contrary. In her words, restricting food is related to success. When Nichols arrives at Oklahoma and learns more about nutrition, she does not connect it to her college athletic success; she notes that she felt better overall when paying attention to food as fuel but never overtly links it to her performance as a Sooner. 

Nichols does not speculate far on her failure to make the Olympic team, and in fact seems to accept in the memoir that she was not going to make the team itself. It is not getting an alternate spot that eats at her, and she does blame it on her reporting of Nassar’s abuse. I know there are many who chafe at this interpretation, but here Nichols seems more reflective about the 2016 Olympic run-up and her performance at Trials relative to the ultimate team selection than did the Netflix documentary Athlete A. It is not a rehash of the documentary, and never does Nichols disparage anyone who did make the Rio team. It’s obvious that she is disappointed, but she speaks about heading to Oklahoma as an empowering moment that followed. 

I cannot recommend Unstoppable, primarily because of its underlying message that a lack of food correlates to athletic success. Nichols has had an admirable career despite her many setbacks—and despite many people linking her only to those setbacks. I just wish she would talk about her success, particularly at Oklahoma, as something she fought for (including making dietary changes) and less as though it simply happened to her because she’s a good person who had bad things happen.

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Article by Lela Moore


  1. I think you are wrong for not recommending this book to young girls. Maggie does discuss what she learned about food at OU and how that knowledge helped her “achieve optimal performance”. She talks about enjoying the cafe and learning what particular foods did to help her. She talks about eating with her team and how it became “fun and satisfying again”. Maybe you need to reread the book?

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