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Gaining Ground's Staff Blog
Responding to the Olympics and Simone Biles
Contributors: All Staff
August 4th, 2021
Recently the news has been abuzz about U.S. Olympic gymnast Simone Biles and her choice to withdraw from the Tokyo Olympics in order for her to take care of her mental health.
We wanted to provide a different perspective, so we asked our staff members here to share their thoughts regarding Simone Biles' decision to withdraw.
Meghan Confer, MHC-LP:
Simone Biles withdrawing from the Olympics to prioritize her mental health, is a glowing example of how important our mental health is, and the significant role it plays even in tasks that seemingly are focused solely on our physical health. Historically, mental health has gained quite a bit of stigma, oftentimes being seen as less important, and even less legitimate than our physical health. Sometimes, the wounds we can see are treated as more legitimate than the wounds we cannot see. However, in recent years, we have started to see a shift in pop culture, of mental health being spoken about openly, and without shame. Simone Biles is the most recent of these examples, when she withdrew from the Olympics to take care of her mental health. Simone's withdrawal models for the many people across the world watching the Olympics, and Biles career, several key lessons that we can take with us:
1.) Your mental health is just as important as your physical health, and is important FOR your physical health.
Gymnastics is known for being one of the most physically and mentally strenuous sports. Therefore, both your mind and body need to be ready in order to give an optimal performance. This is also a helpful reminder for us, that our mind and body are connected; if your mental health is not at it's best, there can be consequences to your physical health, and vice versa. Therefore, mental health concerns are just as legitimate and important to prioritize as our physical health concerns.
2.) Mental health does not need to rise to a serious level of concern before we can address it.
Biles' explained that her withdrawal from the Olympics was a preventative measure for her mind and body. There was no serious injury or mental health condition that caused Biles withdrawal, it was her listening to what her mind and body needed to feel and perform her best. This reminds us that mental health is something we take care of and maintain continuously, not something we need to ignore until it becomes too much to bear.
3.) Speaking out about mental health is not selfish, and is nothing to be ashamed of.
Biles' openness in explaining her withdrawal from the Olympics, and her ability to do this while having the US gymnastics team performance to consider, is an incredible mark of bravery on Biles' part. This also teaches us that others may not prioritize our mental health, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't, or that doing so is selfish. Biles knew she could not support her team if she pushed forward, and made a difficult choice to support herself, knowing that this is also what is best for the team. This is true for all of us! We cannot help, be present, and be a support for others in our lives if we cannot do these things for ourselves first.
Therefore, Simone Biles has taught us all three very important lessons by deciding to withdraw from the Olympics to prioritize her mental health. These lessons all boil down to one major reminder for all of us; taking care of ourselves and our mental health is important, and is something we should be doing consistently.
Nadi Sawinski, MHC-LP:
Simone Biles has been a gymnast since she was six years old, beginning her elite career as young as age 14. She has faced adverse childhood experiences, such as foster care, and openly shares that she has struggled with anxiety and confidence issues from a young age. Simone’s extreme skill and intensive training has placed her on a platform which the entire world watches. Simone has introduced technical moves never before seen in women’s gymnastics.
Athletes sit out when they have an injury, right? No one would argue with a runner missing a competition due to an injury. Mental health is equally as important as physical health, and if an individual needs to rest, they deserve the time and space necessary to heal. Gymnastics has been a love and a passion for Simone nearly her entire life, and she has brought the world joy and amazement for many years. She deserves to rest. She deserves to focus on healing.
Simone owes us nothing, but even in this stepping down, she has created a space for athletes around the world to recognize just how important mental health is.
Adrianna Beck, MHC-LP
Simone Biles is being more than open about her past and present needs in terms of her mental health. Many other Olympians and athletes alike have come forward sharing their own struggles as well.
I think when we think Olympian we think superhuman but in reality these girls and women have been subjected to abuse and trauma from a young age. This creates generational trauma links for all of them who had to be trained in that environment. I think this issue should be addressed deeply by the Olympic committee and community.
I did read an article about Simone Biles and her gym she opened for girls to train. One of her teammates was going to be passed over for the Olympics because she was not seen as a contender. Simone took her into her gym and now that girl has grown into a silver medal winning Olympian.
I think this needs to be a bigger conversation about mental health in not only the Olympics but also in the athletic community as a whole.