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Simone Biles: a Mental Health Cheerleader

I woke up yesterday morning to the news that Simone Biles had withdrawn from the team competition at the 2020 (really 2021) Tokyo Olympics. As the day went on, I couldn’t help but wonder the reason. On my training run, I hoped it wasn’t muscular as I remember rehabbing a hamstring tear while training for the 2009 Boston marathon. I hoped it wasn’t skeletal as I recalled healing a metatarsal stress fracture in 2012. Injuries can occur in athletes of all disciplines but one injury that isn’t commonly talked about enough in sport or in the everyday life are those that involve our mental health.

Later in the day, I had heard that Simone wasn’t physically injured but made the decision to preserve her mental health. I applaud Simone for this decision on so many levels. As an athlete, I can’t begin to imagine how intense it must be to compete on the world stage at the Olympics. As a registered dietitian who works with athletes and those with mental health concerns, I wish more athletes recognized how their mental health impacts their physical health and athletic performance.

The Olympics can teach us so many things but these are the three things I hope we all take away from Simone Bile’s decision:

It matters just as much as your physical health and maybe even more. If you can’t think clearly then your body can’t perform to the best of its abilities. When our minds are clear, our bodies can run on autopilot and we can perform our best. Simone’s decision to prioritize her mental health was made to reduce her risk of a physical injury. That says a lot about her sense of self. She knows her body. She understands the consequences if she didn’t take a step back. Simone knows her body’s boundaries and she honors them.

You know your body best. No one is going to speak up for what you need, except you. If you don’t listen to your body’s whispers then it will begin to shout. People often learn this the hard way through niggles that turn into chronic injuries after being ignored for days, weeks, months or years. There are many other aspects of life and athletics that can impact our mental health. We need to pay attention to those same whispers to protect our mental health and that is exactly what Simone Biles did.

When we take care of ourselves, we are able to show up fully for others in our lives. But we need to take care of ourselves first. There are many sayings with the same premise such as you can’t pour from an empty cup. These aren’t just sayings, they are fact. The moment that Simone prioritized herself and her mental health, she rejoined her team to cheer them on. She cheered them on to win an Olympic silver medal!

How can you prioritize your mental health today? What situations in your life do you need to pay attention to your body’s whispers? What boundaries can you set in place in your life so that your body doesn't need to shout? Which one of these takeaways resonates with you?

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