Simone Biles, who stands just over 4 and a half feet tall, is perhaps the greatest gymnast the world will ever know. She has won 6 medals in the Olympics and 25 medals in the World Championships. She is performing stunts that historically have never been done by a woman, and she does so flawlessly.
She has been dubbed G.O.A.T., an honor bestowed to her by virtue of her skill and bravery. To date she truly is the greatest gymnast of all time.
But when she walked away from Olympic competition in order to focus on her mental health this week, she may have become the bravest human of all time.
With all eyes on her, every camera zoomed in on her face, an entire world watching her every move, Simone stood up and said, “I have to focus on my mental health and not jeopardize my health and well-being.”
She’d had a few hours of the jitters between her earlier practice and her warm ups. She’d been having some trouble getting sleep. And when it came time to perform, she gave it a shot.
But it wasn’t there. The mental focus it takes to pull off the feats of physics that made her famous, admired, and pressured to perform wasn’t there. It was like she could see the crack, and rather than force it, which could come at great physical cost (like quadriplegia… or death), she stopped. In doing so she not only kept the crack from getting bigger, she also became a new kind of champion.
It is SO HARD to speak up when mental illness decides to hijack your brain, your emotions, even your organs.
When you’re just sitting in a normal room doing normal things and your heart tries to beat out of your chest because anxiety is doing its dance in your body, it is SO HARD to say, “I’m having a massive panic attack and need to step away.”
When you’re going through the motions of life for the benefit of those around you but you’re internally exploring new depths of darkness because depression is settling in, it is SO HARD to say, “I need help. This is out of my control.”
Simone, in what is probably the most courageous thing she has ever done, did the hard thing. She, one of the best physical specimens walking the planet, told the whole world, “I am not okay.”
Put mental health first, ” said Simone Biles. “Because if you don’t, you’re not going to succeed as much as you want to.”
Simone has been open about her ADHD diagnosis and her experience with therapy, but this move, where she put mental health above all else – above the whole world – is more awe-inspiring than the moves she invented that now bear her name or that Yurchenko Double Pike she debuted this year.
And it’s not just that she listened to her mind when her body was in the spotlight. It’s also her behavior after her decision to leave the competition. Knowing the cameras would be on her non-stop and people would be speculating, gossiping, and criticizing her decision, she still came back.
She came out with her head high, resolute in her choice.
She stayed at the competition to cheer on her teammates, supporting them like a true sportswoman. She congratulated the winning athletes. She attended the press conference after and did interviews with reporters.
Mental health issues can make you want to run and hide, to keep your out-of-whackness to yourself, but Simone demonstrated that mental health is literally the most important thing in life and that it is okay to say “I’m not okay.”
What a win for the whole world.