Thursday, July 29, 2021

Strength, Courage and Bravery

I wasn't supposed to be writing this today.  I had a light-hearted and fun Throwback Thursday blog post written and scheduled to be posted this morning.  But that can wait.

This is much more important.

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By now, you've heard about how US gymnast Simone Biles stepped back from the gymnastics team competition at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.  Yesterday, Simone and USA Gymnastics announced she was also withdrawing from the individual all around competition.  The reactions to both pieces of news could be heard all around the world.

Most people were supportive and proud of her for doing what she needed to do.

Others... not so much.

Quitter. Weak. Failure. Coward. Loser. Soft. Choke.

You abandoned your team.  You let the country down.  You let the world down.

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These were the reactions of many people after hearing the news.  I sat stunned and horrified that human beings could say such terrible things about someone.  (And let's face it, a good portion of the awful comments I read were from middle aged men who could probably barely perform a somersault let alone the acrobatics Simone does.)

Before I go any further, I want to state that I understand the disappointment.  I was looking forward to seeing Simone fly and accomplish feats that most of us can never even dream of attempting.  She literally flies through the air, flipping like it's nothing.

But in reality, it's taken her years of hard work and dedication... not to mention blood, sweat and tears to get to this point.  She has spent countless hours training her body to reach the greatest heights that women's gymnastics has ever seen.  And she's also spent years training her mind to trust her body and her athletic skill.

The entire world knows she's the greatest woman to ever compete at gymnastics.  

Simone is the G.O.A.T. of women's gymnastics.  She's got four skills named after her for being the first person to complete them in competition.  She was the heavy favorite to win gold in the individual all around as well as many of the event finals.  She was also expected to lead Team USA to another team gold in women's gymnastics.  Oh, and don't forget that she was also the "face" of these Olympic Games.  No pressure.

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As soon as Simone attempted her first vault at the team competition, I could tell that something was wrong.  The look on her face as she flew through the air scared me.  It was like she didn't know where she was in the air.  (In hindsight, it appears she didn't.) 

I'm not a gymnast, so I'll never know the depths of trust one must have in their body in order to hurl themselves through the air, twisting and turning.  Let's be real, I get dizzy if I spin around once, so clearly I'm out of my depth when it comes to understanding gymnastics.  However, even with my lack of knowledge, it's blatantly apparent to me that a gymnast can't perform at her best level if she doesn't trust herself.

It's been reported that Simone has been suffering from the "twisties"- a sensation where one loses their place in the air.  Gymnasts train for years learning skills and relying on their muscle memory to perform them.  When you suddenly have a sudden cognitive awareness that you're flying through the air twisting around, the "twisties" take over.  All of the elite gymnasts I've watched them interview since then have said they've experienced them before at some point in their careers.  And in a sport where one wrong move could easily paralyze or kill you, the "twisties" are dangerous.  

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Simone didn't have a mental breakdown.  She didn't choke.  It's not something she "wasn't mentally strong enough" to overcome.  She isn't a quitter.  She didn't abandon her team.  She isn't a failure, or a coward, weak, soft or a loser.  And she certainly didn't let the country or the world down.

Simone showed a sense of strength that most people would most likely not if put in the same position.  She trusted her body and her mind- knowing that if she continued she might seriously injure herself.  How she's being treated is cruel, ridiculous and unfair; she's not a robot that performs purely for our entertainment.  She's a human being.

Not to mention, she's already proven to "overcome" plenty in her 24 years.  Simone has already been through so much adversity and conquered so much.  She's a black woman in America.  She was sexually abused for years at the hands of someone who should have been a trusted adult that protected her.  She's spent years training her body and her mind to achieve the most incredible skills the women's gymnastics world has ever seen.  She does things that no one else on the planet can do.  She still persevered even after all of the challenges thrown at her this past year during the pandemic and with the games delayed.  She's been "the face" of these Olympics.

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And let's not forget that the judges flat out told Simone that they wouldn't score her correctly at these Olympic Games.  Fearing for the safety and well-being of the other athletes, they told Simone she would be scored on a scale.  Imagine training for years to do things no one else can do, and then being told that you're "too good" at them.

How would all of these people trolling her online feel if Tom Brady's touchdown throws or Michael Jordan's shots weren't going to count for their full scores because they're "too good" at their sports?  It's basically the same, is it not?

This woman is a champion.  A champion of women's gymnastics, yes, but also a champion of girls, women (especially black women), people struggling with their mental health and sexual abuse victims everywhere.  She is a role model and an inspiration to many people across the world- including me.

If we can't support athletes on their tough days, we don't deserve them at their best.

Like many, I'm disappointed that we didn't get to see Simone perform the way we all know she can.  But I'm more proud of how she did what she needed to do in order to take care of herself than I ever would have been with any skill she could have done.  I am so proud to have her represent our country.  Simone showed more strength and bravery by stepping back than she would have by competing.

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I am also so proud of the rest of the US women's gymnastics team who stepped up when they needed to.  Suni, Jordan and Grace showed the world what a team really is... supporting each other no matter what.  It seems like all everyone was focused on was that the United States didn't get the gold medal, but the US Women won their silver medals.  They worked so hard and they earned their spot on the podium.

Even after Simone pulled out from competing in the rest of the gymnastics team event, she was still there cheering for her teammates.  She could have left the floor, avoided the spotlight and the cameras and not come back.  Instead, she stayed, watched them, cheered them on and supported them.  She was their biggest cheerleader.

After that, Simone addressed the press and all of the inevitable questions.  She spoke up about the importance of protecting our mental health- as well as our bodies- and she started conversations.  This woman is changing the world and making a difference.

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Strong. Courageous. Brave. Role Model. Inspiration.

Thank you Simone for showing children, athletes, and everyone that it's ok to take care of yourself and put your mental health first.  You are a true American hero.  °o° 

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