I have Big Feelings about Simone Biles
I have put up a new post every week 73 times in a row.
Until last week.
See, I chickened out. I had been drafting a piece in my head, but could not get it down on
paper screen. I procrastinated until it was 10 minutes before posting time on posting day and I chickened out.
Even as I sit here 5 days later I am procrastinating with these vague intro paragraphs while I take deep breaths to really be honest here…
I have big feelings about Simone Biles and the twisties.
When I first read the headline, I was disappointed in her. You train for FIVE YEARS, truly are one of the greatest athletes ever, and can’t pull out of your tail spin to compete for your teammates?
This is less about patriotism and more about TEAM.
I was raised in team sports, and it was drilled into my head that team was EVERYTHING. The people you “were in the trenches” with. Those you literally shed blood, sweat, and tears with. Cue all the training montages.
In college I had a season where I was pressing too hard and making blunders all over the court. Today I would absolutely say it was neither productive nor sustainable. I was pulled from the starting lineup and had a miraculous recovery of mind. It was nothing physical – all mental.
I talked to my coach about continuing to come off the bench. It worked wonders for my game, and I got more confidence over the next several weeks. Then I ended up back in the starting lineup. I asked to come off the bench instead and was summarily told that what I thought didn’t matter, to go play – this is what was best for the team. I never did play as well as I did off the bench and my confidence went back into the dumper.
This is just one of the NUMEROUS times I was told that what I thought and felt did not matter, I needed to shove it down and perform for the greater good. It was often suggested (although on occasions like this stated directly) that my mental and physical individual well-being did not matter if it was a detriment – or even just inconvenienced – the others around me.
My mental and physical individual well-being did not matter if it was a detriment or even just inconvenienced the others around me.
As athletes we are to perform, not think. To achieve, not feel. If I could do that as a mid-major collegian, shouldn’t Simone Biles have to do that as an Olympian? This just did not sit right with me. I did not know enough about rules of Olympic gymnastics to know if she could have pulled out sooner and given a teammate a chance to compete. I just had a bitter feeling about all of it.
Then came the abuse Biles received in the media. She is not a true American because she would not compete? Then of course comes the racist, sexist hate speech. All of that is totally out of line no matter what. Additionally, it was completely out of proportion to the “infraction” of not competing in a sport.
I had bitter feelings about this too. All of these strangers out there completely disconnected from Biles and her sport were making these sweeping, drastic judgements and dragging this young woman’s name and character over the coals. It was painful to me and they weren’t even talking about me.
But it felt like they were.
It felt like they were talking about me. Simone Biles had the courage to do what I was never able to do. She stood up for her own mental and physical safety even when it was not popular. Even when it probably went against every natural fiber of what has been drilled into her brain for the last 3 Olympiads – or longer. Even when there is no path of how to navigate, no lesson plan to follow.
She just knew that competing with the mental state she was in was not productive. Literally – she could not produce the skills she normally could. Calling it “the twisties” sure makes it seem trivial and silly – we need a name that truly reflects its seriousness. Continuing to try to “push through” was not sustainable, potentially literally unsustainable. The stories of gymnasts critically injured by pushing through are horrifying.
Because it really is just a sport. Sport is not life – no matter what we are told or what Dani Rojas declares in “Ted Lasso.” In all of my years as an athlete, I only had 1 coach tell me that my performance was separate from worth. Coach Ken Witt, my high school track coach, told me once in a midst of a total meltdown, “Your worth as a person is not dependent on how far you throw a lead ball.”
Which leads me back to my original bitterness about Biles pulling out of competition. What if I would have listened more to Coach Witt and less to other coaches who told me to suck it up and get out there, to not let the team down. What if I had admitted more about mental and physical struggles I was having to trainers who were there to advocate for me and other athletes.
I think this is why I had my original negative response to Simone Biles – she stood up for herself when I didn’t. Although I am not sure what the emotion is, I know that I had a visceral feeling of, “I pushed through so why can’t you?”
But here I am today trying to undo those feelings because shoving it all down and pushing through is neither productive nor sustainable. This avoiding and pretending and putting your worth into things outside of you is what causes the need to numb out in life.
Admitting you are human and have feelings and limitations is how you can define your worth as a person.
Being proud of how you respond and not how you perform is how you can define your worth as a person.
I hope that Simone Biles will be more proud of the example she has set for others by stepping off the competition floor than what she ever could have on the medal podium.