This is the year of the Tokyo Olympics, and one of its biggest stars, Simone Biles, has made headlines recently. After stumbling through her first event, USA Gymnastics announced that Simone was pulling out of the remainder of the team competition. Afterward, she also pulled out of the individual competition. Her decision shocked the world of sports, but Biles says she wasn’t in the right state of mind to compete and that she withdrew for her own safety. In a news conference, she stated, “I just think mental health is more prevalent now in sports, and it’s not just we have to set everything aside. We also have to focus on ourselves because, at the end of the day, we’re human too. So we have to protect our mind and our body rather than just go out there and do what the world wants us to do.” How does her decision and statement relate to the rest of us and particularly sexual assault survivors?
The most obvious connection is Biles’ status as a survivor herself. While competing, Biles is actively suing USA Gymnastics and the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee. She alleges that these organizations failed to protect her and others from the sexual abuse of Larry Nassar, the former gymnastics team physician.
As Louise Radnofsky of the Wall Street Journal explains, “She is the only self-identified survivor who is still competing at gymnastics highest level. And she says, when she goes out there, she’s aware that the spotlight on her keeps the attention on what happened. But it also means that at a meet, she could be asked by a reporter at any moment, when she’s trying to focus her mind on something else, about what happened.”
The pressure on Biles was enormous, not only as an athlete but as an advocate for survivors. It wasn’t until she had a disorientating experience in her first event that she realized she wasn’t in the proper physical and mental state to compete. At that moment, she made a crucial decision – choosing her well-being over the pressure to perform. Her decision sparked disbelief and some criticism, but it also reminded people of the importance of self-care.
Most of us are not Olympic athletes performing in front of a world stage, but we all feel pressure to “perform” in our own lives. Whether it’s in the workplace, relationships, or our community—we often shove our mental and physical health aside to do so. Unfortunately, if we do this long enough, our bodies and mind shut down on their own, and we’re forced to take a break.
In these Olympic games, Simone Biles is reminding us to say no when it’s too much. But even more so, her experience is a reminder that having consistent self-care allows us to function on our terms. When we ignore or repress our needs, they often sprout out when we’re least prepared. Constant mental and physical care is an investment in ourselves, allowing us to perform our best in a healthy way.