Over the past few days myself and my team have been contacted by numerous news and media stations, friends, and others wanting to know our perspective on Simone Biles pulling out of the Olympics after some mental health concerns.
For me in this moment as an Athlete Therapist I would like to first address the fear and anger people have expressed about her decision. The fear that we are raising and promoting weak minded athletes. That her choice and other athletes’ choice to take care of themselves is selfish and soft. That she is a quitter and choked under pressure. Simone has 36 medals, 27 of them gold. She spends 7 hours a day 6 days a week training.
Nothing about Simone’s journey of greatness is weak or soft. Her training would cripple most, the trauma she has experienced in her sport and in her life would cripple most and yet she has shown nothing but strength. She had a small moment in her incredible career where she didn’t feel right and did what she thought was best for her and her team.
Every day I sit with athletes some as young as 9 who come in for mental health concerns or just in need of support while they devote their life to a sport that can be incredibly harsh. Riddled with anxiety, pressures and injuries. Ashamed and angered that they feel the way they do.
Yet, most continue to show up, break their bodies and be ridiculed by armchair experts over every little thing. Everyday I am amazed by athletes’ struggles and their ability to still be successful and hold it all together.
Our own fears and uncomfortability with seeing athletes struggle or what happens if we address it has only caused more fear and harm. People’s anger only promotes that medals, perfection, and physical output is all that is important.
Simone has not been the first nor will she be the last to put her health and safety first over winning a medal.
I am extremely grateful to be in a career that allows athletes to be human, to be broken, to be strong and to be empowered to step back out there or walk away.