Imagine what it must be like for Simone Biles – the pre-2021 Olympics Biles, that is. At the age of 24, you are routinely referred to as the greatest of all time in your field of women’s gymnastics. I don’t know many people who could stand up to that pressure.
Last week, Biles took herself out of Olympic competition because she felt unsafe doing the aerial demands of gymnastics given her present state of mind. Basically, she didn’t feel mentally fit to compete. Without full attention, gymnastics can be as dangerous as any other sport.
Reaction around the world has been mixed. Some, such as far-right radio hosts Clay Travis and Buck Sexton, are critical of Biles for not being tough enough to stand up to the pressure of competition. Some, such as SNL’s Michael Che, have sought to make Biles the butt of their jokes. And then there are the people like me who applaud Biles for having the strength to do what is best for her own immediate, and long-term, mental health.
I am very vocal about my mental health disability. I do so in hopes that my accomplishments can help to inspire other disabled people to strive to achieve all they can. But I’m not risking millions of dollars in endorsement deals the way Biles is.
Biles didn’t have to disclose that the condition keeping her out of competition was related to mental health, but she did. For that, she deserves more applause than for any of her Olympic medals.
For most of my life, my mental illness was not diagnosed. People excused my bizarre behavior because I was talented and articulate. The stereotype of someone with mental illness being of limited mental faculties is a dire misconception.
President Abraham Lincoln and playwright Tennessee Williams suffered from depression. Artist Vincent Van Gogh and composer Ludwig van Beethoven suffered from bipolar disorder. The late NFL defensive end Lionel Aldridge and current pop star Aaron Carter were both diagnosed with schizophrenia. There are multiple examples of people with mental illness achieving great things.
Biles’ job at the Olympics is to represent the United States with dignity and honor. I feel that by putting her mental health first, Biles absolutely represents our country in the best possible way. And, even though she isn’t representing the U.S. in competition, she has stayed an active and visible cheerleader for her teammates.
Knowing all the world is watching her and judging her, Biles has done what only a true champion would do – support her team. The Olympics are not about individual honor so much as about all the athletes coming together to represent their country as a whole.
Sure, there are individual stars like Michael Phelps, Jesse Owens, Carl Lewis, and Mary Lou Retton whose fame cast a long shadow. But at the end of the day, they were representing their country.
Biles can be proud that in the face of adversity, she rose to the challenge in an unconventional way. She sets a fine example of the spirit of a champion.
Peace. Love. Trust.
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