— Los Angeles Times (@latimes) July 27, 2021
It was a sight no one thought they’d ever see:
Simone Biles, the four-time Olympic gold medalist known for her powerhouse gymnastic skills and can-do attitude, withdrew from the women’s team competition in Tokyo on Tuesday.
While many wondered early on if she was dealing with a physical injury, Biles eventually came forward to reveal that she bowed out for mental health reasons.
US gymnast Simone Biles says she withdrew from the team finals over mental health concerns and that those competing are “not just athletes, we’re people.” https://t.co/lPK7yfP5JN
— CNN (@CNN) July 27, 2021
As a fan, my heart hurt for her.
She has spent years training and preparing for this moment. Gymnastics is the reason the world knows her and loves her and cheers her on. And damn, she is remarkable at what she does.
It is also the reason she recently stated, “I truly do feel like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders at times. I know I brush it off and make it seem like pressure doesn’t affect me but damn sometimes it’s hard…”
And so, as someone who has dealt with panic attacks and anxiety and stress on a level that’s not even remotely close to the pressure she deals with daily, I felt for her—deeply.
How many of us have suffered through a day, a meeting, a work project, a family responsibility, an event simply because we’re too afraid to say, “I mentally cannot handle this today”?
How many of us have forced ourselves to endure something because we didn’t want to seem weak? Didn’t want to be labelled a quitter? Didn’t want to deal with the questions, the judgements, the commentary from others?
How many of us have cried in the bathroom or given ourselves a pep talk full of lies or guilted ourselves into showing up when we knew deep down that it would be better, healthier, more honest to just say, “I can’t.” Or, “Not today.” Or, “This isn’t the best choice for me.”
Now imagine having to do this as the world watches.
No, Simone Biles did not walk away from the team competition with a(nother) gold medal. But she sure as hell made a powerful statement— one she’ll be remembered for long after the Olympic torch is put out.
She had the courage (even though I’m sure it was a devastating choice to have to make) to put her mental health before the expectations of others, much like Naomi Osaka did a few months ago. She had the strength to listen to herself, to care for herself, and to know that this choice was not only best for her but for her teammates—who stepped up and brought home the silver.
She took the can-do attitude that she’s become known for—the attitude so many of us feel forced to bring to the table, even when it’s killing us—and made it clear that some days she just can’t, and that’s okay.
A few tweets that summed up my thoughts on this:
And I’m not talking about your skills as a gymnast, @Simone_Biles.
Be encouraged and take care.
— Be A King (@BerniceKing) July 28, 2021
It’s impossible to understand the pressure Simone Biles—the greatest gymnast in the history of the sport—and Naomi Osaka are feeling, but we’re lucky to live in a time where young Black trailblazers are publicly prioritizing their mental health above all else. That’s power.
— Evette Dionne (@freeblackgirl) July 27, 2021
— Uzo Aduba (@UzoAduba) July 27, 2021
Sending LOVE to these young legends, Simone Biles & Naomi Osaka.
Black women are often expected to push through obstacles at the expense of their own well being & mental health.
Simone & Naomi, we love you and are proud of you!
Thank you for putting your mental health first ❤️ pic.twitter.com/9nX5YGttOG
— Strong Black Lead (@strongblacklead) July 27, 2021
“Mental health is physical health and Simone Biles deserves your understanding, not your criticism.” https://t.co/TsDJeuw3Gr
— The Kansas City Star (@KCStar) July 27, 2021
— Michelle Obama (@MichelleObama) July 28, 2021