In an instant, Simone Biles had become the talk of this summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo – and for unfortunate reasons no athlete would wish on their worst enemy.
After struggling in the early days of competition, Biles sidelined herself citing the need to tend to her mental health.
Overnight, a national conversation on mental health commenced, and in this age of explosive social media punditry, there was no shortage of opinions. Both supporters and detractors weighed in on the unexpected decision. Many praised her boldness and vulnerability, while others questioned her sincerity, toughness and ulterior motives.
“I got a lot of great comments, like a lot of outpouring of support and love, but I also got a lot of bad stuff,” Biles acknowledged. “You guys have no idea what we’re going through.”
What was she going through?
In laymen’s terms, Simone Biles had seemed to lose her nerve and focus, and at the worst possible time.
“Things were not connecting, and I don’t know what went wrong,” she told reporters. “People say it’s like stress-related, but I, honestly, I could not tell you because I felt fine. I think I’m still trying to process this a little bit.”
It’s hard enough to be 24 and in the bright spotlight on the world’s stage – but when you’re attempting to execute extremely dangerous maneuvers and unable to process your next move while doing so, the once second-nature performance suddenly becomes a potentially fatal effort.
But after a week of watching her fellow teammates compete and cheering them on, Biles announced plans for a comeback – a surprising decision leading to a bronze-medal performance on the balance beam.
“To have one more opportunity to be at the Olympics meant the world to me,” she said afterwards.
This past week’s events in Tokyo weren’t the first time Simone Biles’ world has been turned upside down. Born to a mother who struggled with a drug and alcohol addiction, the Olympic gymnast, along with three siblings, was placed in foster care before being adopted by grandparents.
Homeschooled in order to free up additional time to nurture her athletic talent, Biles’ family impressed upon their new daughter the fact that every life encounters its shares of joys and heartaches. It’s not what happens to you – but how you respond, and to Whom you bring your concerns about what has happened.
“I am a very prayerful person so I encourage my children to do the same thing too, to pray,” reflected Simone’s grandmother and adoptive mother. “I know it doesn’t matter what situation you are ever in, you just put it in the hands of the Lord and he’s going to walk you through it.”
What will come of Simone Biles when the flags come down, the cameras are turned off and the Olympic torch is extinguished?
Christians should know, better than most, that journeys this side of eternity can be long and arduous. Fame and fortune inoculate no one, and in fact, often add weight to the burden.
But believers also appreciate the fact we’re all becoming – we’re works in progress, growing and maturing, drawing closer to Jesus as we try to emulate His example in spite of the bumps and crashes along the way.
Few of us are Olympic athletes, but all of us get knocked down by life. When that happens, like Biles, we’re called to assess our fall, make adjustments and eventually get back up on the beam.
Photo from Shutterstock.