You can ask questions. We all have them. But please. Please do not pretend to know what it’s like to be inside the head and the heart of Simone Biles.
To us, she is a gifted goddess of the ever-evocative sport. A dynamo with divine talents that have graced her with the GOAT moniker and multiple media mentions of an untouchable legacy.
And yet. The gravity denying girl in the gilded leotard is a glance at the painting. The stunning tapestry. Ignoring all the miles of mountainous splatters that have amassed on her ground.
I have not suffered racial injustice. Or sexual abuse. My birth mother is not an addict, and I was not placed in foster care. And I sure as hell was never the gymnast Simone is, I barely shared the same stratosphere. But I was dedicated. I was an elite. And I can speak to the haunting terror the twisties put inside your head.
You do things that people treat like magic and in some ways they are. If they ask you to describe how you twist and flip like that in the air, you can describe the technique and the training and, you can break it down. Where and how your body is supposed to be and when, as a gymnast you drill these intricacies into infinity. Every millisecond a freeze frame picture, and you know them all by heart. But then part of it does come down to air sense. And that is a hard thing to describe. And an alarming thing to lose.
Never is a gymnast more acutely aware of the death-defying nature of her sport than when her mind rebels against her body. It is an inner scream that will not quiet.
And there is a reason for that. The internal signals are in place for a very significant reason. Safety is at stake. And when you’re talking about the levels of difficulty these elite athletes are challenging, lives are at stake. Nothing to be dramatized. Think about what they’re doing. If their minds and bodies aren’t unified, what can result is likely to be a casualty of impossible, undoable proportion. There are so many untold stories. Terrible, nightmarish stories. Avoidable stories.
But avoidance is not what the sport has fostered. That is not what is philosophically imbedded from the time things shift from being fun and bouncy to when training becomes oxygen. We are taught to push push push through the pain, always push. Harder. The harder the push the greater result. Work through the alarms. Listen to your coaches, not yourself. Not your signals. Not your knowing.
Simone, you did the most tremendous thing. You took agency of yourself. You did the bravest, boldest thing imaginable. The whole world showed up to see you and you knew it and with your own pen, rewrote a page in the book of gymnastics that was epically desperate for a rewrite. Gymnastics is so broken. A sport that has preyed on its own, discarded innocence in exchange for gold, pushes punishment in place of personal empowerment, prided its paradigm on a culture of toxic perfectionism that overrides intuition, you stopped. You pulled the page. You put wellness before winning. That is more the mark of a champion than anything that can drape around your neck.
And I hope you know it. Because here is the thing. Your physical prowess may never be matched. You have secured your spot in the record books forevermore, and not a one of us will ever be you, we never could be. But what you did on that fateful night in Tokyo, little girls watched. Adults. All of us. You made a historically brave call on the world’s most visible stage. You willingly subjected yourself to what you knew would be absurd and ignorant and ugly judgement from clueless cowards who get a vile thrill from that sort of thing. This was not an inconvenient mental health day, as they will claim, or weakness, or quitting. This was you choosing not to fly your helicopter into the clouds when you alone knew you could not see.
You self-advocated in a place where such a thing has been shunned. And in doing so, took care of your team. You took care of a nation. Your power of one, enough to embolden billions. Listen to your voice, and by God, use it no matter what forces are begging you not to. And that is the lesson I pray we all learned from your dauntless and beautiful audacity. A Simoment for the ages.
As a former gymnast, a mom of teenage daughters, and a human who always hopes to make the world a little better, I thank you for it.
Jolie Loeb is a Luxury Lifestyle columnist based in Los Angeles.