The world’s greatest gymnast has shared with us lessons not only of exquisite athletic performance, but of humility, fortitude, prudence and loving care for her fellow teammates and competitors.
Biles came into the Olympics with exceedingly high expectations from fans around the world, but she herself reported the damaging impact of multiple stressors leading up to and during the games. These games were delayed by a year due to COVID, and the athletes had to perform without the benefit of a cheering live audience and the support of family members in attendance. Further, for Biles in particular, she was the lone surviving competing gymnast among hundreds of young gymnasts to be abused by a trainer, and she had reported that part of the reason she had not yet retired was to be sure the scandal was remembered and addressed by USA Gymnastics.
Of course, even our greatest athletes or superior performers in any endeavor are still human beings who can be overcome by personal and generalized stressors at certain times in certain situations. At times like these, it is entirely appropriate to pull back from competition to focus on one’s mental health, as she reported she intends to do. I know nothing of the particulars of her own mental-health situation, but pray (and expect) that she will regain her equilibrium and see sport as “fun” again, And while I’ve seen her mention of “fun” derided as implying selfishness, there should indeed be a sense of pleasure when an athlete displays his or her well-honed powers at their peak, performing citius, altius, fortius (faster, higher, stronger) A lack of “fun” may indeed serve as a warning that something is seriously wrong.
I believe Biles’ story gives the lie to the old aphorism, “Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.” Mental health and moral virtue are more important: win, lose, draw
Of course, as Catholics, when we face any kind of difficulties, we can draw on an infinite strength and an unlimited wisdom. Biles, a practicing Catholic, has written about the importance of faith in her life, about praying the Rosary and the Hail Mary and how she lights a candle to St. Sebastian, patron saint of athletes, prior to competitions. May she realize that, as our sister in Christ, our prayers join with hers.
I believe Biles has shared with us lessons not only of exquisite athletic performance, but of humility, fortitude, prudence and loving care for her fellow teammates and competitors. Pope Pius XII once said, “The Church, without any doubt whatever, approves of physical culture, if it be in proper proportion.” Thank you, Simone Biles, for helping us keep the value of athletics, virtue and mental health “in proper proportion.”