Dear Ms. Biles,
Gymnastics is one of my favorite Olympic sports to watch. It’s so much fun to watch the gymnasts do their cartwheels and flips and twists. As a girl, I loved the idea of being a gymnast like Mary Lou Retton but I’m not an athlete of any kind. Later, I loved watching the “Magnificent Seven” of 1996 and then the “Fierce Five” of 2012 and then the “Final Five” of 2016.
And I loved watching you. You have such beautiful talent in gymnastics and some of your feats are mindblowing. I was looking forward to watching you blow everyone away at the Tokyo Olympics.
But I also knew that the hype could be dangerous. In my experience, many Olympic athletes who were massively hyped up as favorites are under serious pressure and it gets to them to the point that they don’t perform their best.
You saw this. You knew that you were underperforming. You knew that your head wasn’t in it and that your mental health was in trouble. And you pulled out.
I’m an ADDer and I struggle with it all the time. So do a lot of people who struggle with other mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. One major problem we face is dismissal. People can’t perceive mental health issues. They can perceive a broken arm or an illness like the flu or Covid but they can’t perceive depression or anxiety or ADD. So they dismiss it and tell us to just get over it and just do what we have to do.
Ms. Biles, in my book, you did what you had to do. You saw your poor performance and your difficulties here. Instead of just plowing through and hurting yourself worse, you pulled out. You gave yourself a chance to rest and recover and pull yourself together. And you gave your team their best chance at a medal by not letting your difficulties lower the overall team score.
You also braved the stigma. If you had claimed a physical illness or injury, you would’ve been met with nothing but sympathy. Instead, you chose to be honest. I’m sure you knew that there would be some dismissal and even derision. That’s why mental health issues are often harder to handle than most physical issues. But you did it anyway.
Thanks to you, your team won silver. You’re getting yourself back together. You may have even started raising further awareness of mental health issues.
Ms. Biles, in my book, you won your gold medal.
A gymnastics fan who knows what mental health issues can do to you.