Simone Biles – Self-Protecting is Greater Than Gold

Suzette Standring
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An act of humility transforms Olympic sports when Simone Biles, the world’s most decorated female gymnast, bowed out of the uneven bars and vault events due to severe mental stress and concerns about personal safety.  Certain that her condition would result in competitive loss, she made way for her team to step up and to later win Olympic silver. 

In a change of heart, Biles competed on the balance beam on August 3 to win Bronze. Her decision is one she credits to the outpouring of public support to her initial withdrawal.

Putting her mental health first is groundbreaking for Bile’s honesty and speaking out to self-protect.

Yet many have called her a quitter, accused her of selfishness, and even spreading misinformation that she withdrew because she wasn’t having fun.

Let’s take a look at this 24-year-old’s experiences. Her elite career began at age 14, and she was sexually abused by Larry Nassar, the Olympics gymnastics doctor, a trauma which led to Bile’s deep depression.

She has powered through to win 37 medals in Olympic and World Championship events (27 gold, five silver and now, five bronze medals.

As an abuse survivor in the Tokyo Olympics, Biles was motivated to compete to draw attention to protecting young female athletes from the molestation that she and others went through.

Then there is indescribable stress of competing. All Olympic athletes work in a pressure cooker. Idolized, they carry the national pride and hopes of their countries.  Years of fearsome training involve injury and pain. Family sacrifices are huge. More, more, more is demanded even from the world’s best. You want to be on that Wheaties box?  Show us how you risked permanent injury or death.

But extreme duress is not limited to athletes. Mental health issues are on the rise everywhere, but it was Biles who was brave enough (and used her fame) to say, “Enough, I’m in danger.”  

Untenable demands infect our society. People work 60-70-80 hours a week. Students are pressured to make top grades or excel at sports, despite failing mental and physical health. Parents sacrifice family life in the pursuit of “a good living.” Youngsters don’t know how to cope with cruelty and body image distortions on social media. Far too many believe “this is the way it is.”  

Do you believe that expressing concerns about self-preservation is weakness? That one should fight through pain and risk the worst just like an Olympic athlete?  After all, Mount Olympus was the home of the gods. But Biles would not acccept that mythology.

There are no gods among us, only human beings.  Expressing one’s truth leads us all to a better place. Simone Biles shows us how a true champion puts mental and physical health first. She is forever golden.

This column ran in The Patriot Ledger on August 10, 2021