All the talk this week has been about the Tokyo Olympics and the actions of one single gymnast, Simone Biles. I don’t follow lots of sports but I know that she is already a medalist in a previous Olympics, having jumped and flipped her way into the history books with her incredible physical power. Recently in practice, she performed a flip that is so rarely done in competition, there aren’t really any scores to accurately reflect the difficulty level for a woman performing it. She has been dubbed the G.O.A.T. - The Greatest of All Time. What an honor. Or is it?
Simone Biles made the inexplicable decision to remove herself from the continued competition in these Olympic Games in order to care for her mental health. That could mean a whole host of things but we can assume that it means there was nothing physically wrong preventing her from competing. Mental health is something invisible that outsiders can neither see or validate. And to reveal that personal choice to the world watching and step away from a competition that you have been preparing your entire life for must have been - difficult, to say the least.
Cue the angry voices and the haters. This is not me talking. This is what others said in the wake of her withdrawal from competition:
She’s a loser.
She is weak.
She let her team, and the country, down.
She is selfish and self-centered.
She isn’t worthy of her endorsements.
She shouldn’t be considered a champion.
That last one really gets to me. She shouldn’t be considered a champion? A champion is defined as a person who has defeated or surpassed all rivals in competition, especially sports. A champion is a person who fights or argues for a cause. To champion is to defend or protect. I don’t see any part of this definition that does not apply to Simone. She has already defeated rivals and won awards for her gymnastic skills. Not doing it over and over again doesn’t erase what has already been earned. She is fighting for her own mental health - that is certainly a cause worth fighting for. And she is defending and protecting - herself from physical and emotional damage and her team from potentially losing because of her poor performance.
She knew that she wasn't able to be her best in this moment. She has an enormous amount of pressure on her, headlining this Olympics for Team USA. The expectations alone are enough to make most of us hide in a corner, and it can't possibly be good for one's mental health or emotional well-being. Simone is still human. Simone should be allowed to say when she has had enough. Isn't that what we all want? The freedom to make choices about what we do and how we live?
I just can’t agree with those who say she is not a champion. Were people offended because she stepped away from winning more gold medals? Who are those gold medals for anyway? It feels like people were let down because she didn’t perform and stand up to a standard for being OUR champion. But we don’t need Simone to be OUR champion. We need to be our own.
Taking care of self is a worthy cause, not to be trifled with. Our mental stability and health matters more than most people are ready to admit. Being healthy, mentally and physically, is not a game of luck. You have to care enough about it to work for it, to hold on to it, and to maintain it. You have to be your own champion fighting for the cause of you. If you don’t do it, who will? Olympic medal or not, Simone Biles is the champion we all need, setting an example for us to follow. I can’t flip on a balance beam or even touch my toes, but I can work to maintain or improve my life so that I can live it fully. I can be my own champion. Are you ready to be yours?