Simone Biles, at 25, returned to training, but above all she learned to see beyond sport

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She is the favorite. Because there are no rivals to her height, unless Simone Biles (Ohio, 1997) is wrong. Because she in the flips she rises half a meter above the opponents. Because her pirouettes defy far more than the law of gravity. Because her technique is superfine. Because her choreographies convey complicity, and her four diagonals, one more difficult than the other, provoke in the audience something similar to an inexplicable injection of energy. Because when she dances, she jumps and flies, she has fun. Because she, as a great champion that she is, with 19 gold medals – of the 25 total won – she has changed and improved the world of gymnastics forever.

“When I was little, my mother took us to the office with her and made us write down our short and long-term goals on a piece of paper. It’s an exercise that I still practice today, because that list reminds me of why I do things, ”says this 142cm tall, 47kg weight force of nature. She is small, powerful and frighteningly agile. He measures every step, takes care of gestures and words, especially when talking about important topics, such as the abuse of the federation doctor Larry Nassar, of which he was a victim, or the importance of supporting children in foster care with the Friends of the organization. children, or the fact that falling apart is human and recognizing it makes you stronger. Exactly what happened to her when life presented her with the bill in the middle of the Tokyo Olympic Games and she was able to find the sincerity to tell the world that her mental conditions were not adequate and she would retire. Her message was clear: “Being vulnerable is normal. There’s nothing wrong with feeling emotionally drained. To slow down, put yourself first and seek help if you find it hard to keep going. ” Simone is the best gymnast in history and a fierce opponent, but she also needs to take some time for herself. She wants to plan her wedding with her fiancé Jonathan Owens – defensive back of the Houston Texans football team -, enjoy her newly achieved independence, her new home, and be a daughter, friend and best sister. Meanwhile, He looks forward to Sunday family dinners and keeps jotting down goals, dreams and aspirations. The list of him is endless.

Did you have time to digest what happened in the last year?

It is something that cannot be assimilated. You try to live in the moment and understand it, but I didn’t realize the impact of what happened until after a few months.

With his gesture, he helped turn the mental health debate into a global discourse.

I’m glad to hear it. It has finally become a topic of daily discussion. And now that this issue is in the spotlight, we must take advantage of it to normalize it within society and obtain more resources with which to improve its treatment and prevention. Tomorrow it could happen to you, your friend or family member. Anyone can suffer from it. Today we are under such a level of pressure that protecting your mental health is of the utmost importance, no matter what stage you are on or how many medals you have won.

Does it take courage to recognize one’s vulnerability?

More than anything else you have to be honest and say: “Do you know what it is? I am not well”. What gymnasts do is not easy, otherwise everyone would do it. But, as well as athletes, we are also human beings, and we struggle with our emotions behind closed doors. For years the only reason they congratulated me was because I was winning, now they do it because I am human and vulnerable. Because I’m Simone. Point. Anonymous people thanked me for speaking clearly and loudly, and this is very important to me, because it means that many have decided to seek help.

We know how physical injuries are healed. But the emotional ones?

With patience and balance. No one is prepared for the huge void that is created when, due to force majeure, you cannot complete what you do best. As time goes by you realize that there are many other things besides sports. But to come to this conclusion you have to rely on expert hands. I alone did not know how to navigate these waters, I needed the tools to survive day by day.

What is therapy teaching you?

Resilience, to be braver, to say no, to reflect and to make my voice heard for my own good.

Have you learned to listen better and more?

I listen more and ignore the nonsense more. And I stay in my bubble, because I am very clear that I do not want anyone to poison it.

How do you fight against adversity?

Thinking positive, in and out of sports. Since I was a child I have always seen the glass half full, and this is what has allowed me to go on.

An attitude that she also demonstrated when she spoke out against Larry Nassar, the former federation doctor. What prompted you to step forward and join her companions?

As I read about the abuse suffered by other gymnasts, I realized that their stories coincided with mine. It’s not easy to go back to experiences like that, but I had to make my voice heard and join them. Don’t let the system normalize situations like this by turning your head away.

Did you feel abandoned by the Federation and the United States Olympic Committee at that juncture?

They abandoned me and many other girls, many of whom were minors at the time. We took the medals home, did our duty … And them?

And after that, was it difficult to go back to the gym?

It was very difficult. There were days when I didn’t even want to set foot there. But despite everything, I thought that nothing and no one would be able to get away from my passion. There was nothing that could come between me and the goals I had set for myself. And then he espoused other causes and denounced other injustices, such as Black Lives Matter, attacks on the LGBTQ community …

Are his words powerful?

I am always available to help people and to give a voice to those who do not have it. We all have the right to stand up for what we believe in. It was not easy for me to form an opinion on certain topics, and it was not easy to make it public, because it is always scary to think about how others will react.

Do you think that her merits are diminished by the fact that she is a woman, a black woman, an Olympic athlete and an athlete at the highest level?

Even if you break the barriers and set world records, you are always judged by what others perceive. Managing the loneliness and burden you feel when the world expects you to win is tough, but I think it’s even harder to be a female athlete, because there are people who hope you fail. Maintaining spontaneity can be a challenge when there are those who just want you to take a misstep.

Simone Biles

What is your biggest victory today?

Staying healthy and maintaining my confidence. Looking up beyond what I know and exploring all the things that are inside of me.

Did she go back to training?

Yes, I have to take care of my body, I am of a certain age.

Sure, 25 years old. Which in the world of gymnastics means …

I’m almost old. Technically this would be the answer. In preparation in Tokyo I was at the best of my condition. In 2016, at 19, I thought I had reached the maximum. Every time I trained or competed I was told that I could not do better, because I had already reached the top. So I focused on dodging the negative opinions and continued to outdo myself. I wanted to see what I was capable of and find that talent that was still hiding in me. So that, looking back, I had nothing to regret. Maybe I’ll try a little more.

Does this mean that we will soon see her on the platform?

Not for now. You still have some time to go, I’m waiting for the doctor to tell me. I still have to heal. And then I’m dealing with other issues, like being happy.

Do you know what? She perfectly embodies Maya Angelou’s verse tattooed on her collarbone.

And still I laughed. I got it inked after setting a new record. These are words that speak of self-confidence.

What advice would you give to girls who dream of becoming gymnasts?

It doesn’t matter if they want to become athletes, teachers or whatever, the key thing is that they discover their passion. Once they find it, all the pieces will fall into place. I was adopted and, in addition to having found a family that made me feel important, it was essential for me to follow my passion.

Is that why you collaborate with institutions that deal with foster children?

I know very well what it means to be placed in foster care and how it feels (her mother struggled with addictions when the court took away custody of the children, ed). I collaborate with Friends of the children, an organization that supports young people aged 4 to 12 with mentors capable of being their friends. My hope is to help them achieve their goals, get them educated and know they are not alone. That sooner or later they will grow up and that being in foster care will not be their only title.

Have you ever thought about what it would be like today if she wasn’t adopted?

For one thing, I wouldn’t be a gymnast. Only 50 percent of foster children graduate, and teenagers are twice as likely to become pregnant before age 19. Things could have turned out very differently. I know I was very lucky with what God gave me, because from the very first moment they took care of me, I was healthy and safe. There is nothing worse than a child being tossed from one house or center to another. Everyone needs to feel that sense of belonging.

Simone Biles

Who is your role model?

I have many, but at the top of the list is my mother. I hope I can become at least partly like her. She has a strong character, she is tenacious and knows how to stand up for herself. I recognize with pleasure all that she has done for me and my brothers, she has always put us first.

From what I can tell, her life’s work is not being the best gymnast of all time …

That’s all that’s yet to come. I recently became independent, bought a house, have two beautiful French bulldogs … I like to imagine what the future may have in store.

And she said yes to her boyfriend, Jonathan Owens.

Yup! We are in the midst of preparations for the wedding, which will be between February and July next year, after the football season. It’s another kind of stress.

What awaits you now?

To live. Is there anything more exciting? It’s my new cross-country race.

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