Simone Biles: A tremendous act of courage

The tremendous act of selfless courage demonstrated by US gymnast Simone Biles was the most difficult decision but the right one on many levels

Quite how Simone Biles is feeling today after dropping out of the Team and Individual Gymnastics events at the Tokyo Olympic games is anyone’s guess. She is probably on a roller-coaster of mixed emotions, disappointment, confusion, relief, anxiety, flash-backs, terror, emptiness and a huge sense of questioning, Where do I go from here? The answer to all that is “It is OK”.

A selfless act of tremendous courage

Her monumental decision to drop out of the events to concentrate on herself could not come at a more relevant time, when public figures are coming out about mental health issues. Her selfless act, putting not only her own well-being but also the team and her country in first place, as she realised that on the day she just did not have what it took to explode out on the mat, was the right decision on many levels.

For a start, and especially in gymnastics, when you are flying around metres above ground at break-neck speed and with great energy, if you do not do it right, you risk... breaking your neck... and if you feel that your body and mind are not in sync and cannot provide you with that spark, then you can coward out and go with the flow and do what everyone is expecting you to do, and have an accident and let the team down or you can stand up in a huge act of courage and say “Guys, I am not OK and I cannot do this today”.

People pull out of tennis with thigh strain

Secondly, she spared her team and her country from what she felt might have been a below-par performance and certainly one that was not expected of her. People pull out of tennis with thigh strain. People can pull out of gymnastics because things are not right.

It is not clear exactly what Simone Biles’ reasons for pulling out were, and this is her personal space but a sinister dark presence lunges behind the scenes and that is the sexual abuse scandal which clouds the recent history of gymnastics in the USA and if Biles’ decision had anything to do with this (and if she was a victim, how could it not?) then once again this underlines how deep and how terrible this crime is, it underlines how an incident, however fleeting, can scar someone for the rest of their lives and become an unwanted companion that never leaves their side, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

And in taking her courageous decision, Simone Biles is speaking out for all those who have experienced at some time in their lives a mental health issue, she is saying “it is OK to speak out for yourself and say I am not doing this today” instead of sweeping it under the carpet and ignoring what will later grow into a monster.

Doing this at an airport and not getting on an airplane is a decision which goes virtually unnoticed. Proclaiming to billions of people watching the Olympics around the world when you are the defending Olympic Champion, when you are standing full in the glare of the spotlight with all the expectations placed on the shoulders of an idol, requires verve, grit and above all, self-respect, rising above the cosmetic pleasantries of the occasion, putting the foot down and saying “No, I am going to do what is right for me today!”

Hats off to Simone Biles

So hats off to Simone Biles. I got one go down not on one bended knee but on both knees, hoping that she can manage to grapple and dominate the forces within which forced her decision but knowing that she made the right call on the day.

Finally, and once again, let us remember that mental health, like physical health, is simply and only a health issue. It is one that has been ignored for centuries, disrespected and ridiculed, with callousness and sheer ignorance. Expressions like “Show a stiff upper lip” and “Grin and Bear it!” or “Behave like a Man” deafen the cries for help of the one suffering a panic attack, or insecurity, or terror, or fear, or a phobia or the confusion that arises when one suddenly has an episode for the first time and does not even understand what is going on.

Regular check-ups from pre-school age

So why do we invest trillions in weapons systems to murder people, each and every year, and forget that non-intrusive and constant psychologiucal support from pre-school age, would go a long way not only to helping those with mental health issues but also preventing incidents from happening, which mark people with mental health experiences?

Take for instance the picture drawn by a four-year-old boy, of his father, in red with glaring eyes, holding an object dripping with blood, who at seven years of age is putting a pet in the microwave for a ride, at eleven is stealing his grandmother’s pension and at 16 is kicking old ladies to death so that he can buy drugs. If someone had had a conversation with him way back, something could have been done.

Take for instance the victim of sexual abuse who then repeats the cycle and becomes the perpetrator, creating other cycles of abuse and victimization. If the cycle had been spotted earlier, fewer victims would have been created later on and the original victim may never have become a perpetrator of this most vile crime.

Food for thought?

The author can be contacted at [email protected]


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Author`s name Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey