Opinion Putting her mental health first, Simone Biles sticks the landing

user avatar Author: Editors Desk Source: The Washington Post
August 28, 2023 at 20:12
Ms. Biles put her mental health first.
Simone Biles at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships in San Jose on Sunday. (John G Mabanglo/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)
Simone Biles at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships in San Jose on Sunday. (John G Mabanglo/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

When Simone Biles stuck the landing of her final tumbling pass on Sunday to win a record-breaking eighth national title, she added to her legend by achieving one of the greatest comebacks in U.S. sports.

Gymnasts rarely get second acts, especially at the age of 26. Yet as she so often has, Ms. Biles made the incredible look effortless.

The last time we saw Ms. Biles compete at a major event was the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 when she withdrew from the competition because of a mental health crisis. The backlash was harsh. She was called a quitter and blamed for costing the United States a gold medal. (The team won silver without Ms. Biles.) But she knew and trusted herself enough to stand up to her critics and, without apology, explain: She had the “twisties,” a dangerous condition in gymnastics meaning the brain and the body are not in sync.

Ms. Biles put her mental health first. Other athletes rallied around her. So did many of the more than 57 million American adults and rising number of teenagers suffering from mental illnesses.

And in another supreme act of courage, she testified alongside three fellow gymnasts at a 2021 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the system that, as she put it, “enabled and perpetuated” the sexual abuse they had suffered at the hands of team doctor Larry Nassar. “To be perfectly honest, I can imagine no place where I would be less comfortable right now than sitting here in front of you and sharing these comments,” Ms. Biles said.

The most decorated gymnast in U.S. history has been showered with accolades, including becoming the youngest person to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom. About four months ago, she got married to National Football League player Jonathan Owens.

But instead of retiring, the one so often called “the greatest of all time” has come back to the sport she loves and helped redefine. She looked better than ever at the U.S. championships in San Jose, where her nearly flawless athleticism made it seem as though the law of gravity does not apply to her. She added more artistry to her routines and performed such difficult moves that she finished almost four points ahead of the silver medalist.

She also devoted a lot of time to high-fiving and cheering on younger competitors (many of whom idolized her for years and credit her for inspiring them to do more in the sport).

Ms. Biles didn’t just silence her naysayers. She dropped the mic on them. She shattered another record. She pushed the boundaries of gymnastics — again. And she reminded the world that putting mental health first is key to success.

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