Simone Biles, who made a triumphant, bronze medal-winning return Tuesday after withdrawing from previous Olympic events, has become a model for mental health awareness.
Biles, the most decorated active gymnast in the world and a survivor of sexual abuse by former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar, prioritized her well-being over an audience hungry for her performance, withdrawing from the team final and the individual all-around competition because she had “to do what’s right for me and focus on my mental health.” In celebration of the GOAT (greatest of all time) both on and off the mat, we’ve rounded up her most powerful quotes about mental health.
On withdrawing from the Olympics
“We also have to focus on ourselves because, at the end of the day, we’re human, too,” Biles said. “So, we have to protect our mind and our body, rather than just go out there and do what the world wants us to do.”
On dealing with loss
“Two days ago, I woke up, and my aunt unexpectedly passed, and it wasn’t any easier being here at the Olympic Games,” Biles told reporters after placing in the beam event, per the official Olympics website. “At the end of the day, people don’t understand what we are going through.”
Following her win, Biles told NBC’s Andrea Joyce that she wants people to know that mental health is still an issue.
“What I’ve been through, I’ve just always fought through it, and it’s just been really hard,” she said. “We have triggers, and unfortunately, I had one of my biggest ones here. But to come out and come back with a bronze medal, it means the world to end the Olympics like this.”
On mind-body connection
“It’s honestly petrifying trying to do a skill but not having your mind & body in sync. 10/10 do not recommend,” Biles wrote in an Instagram post in which she explained in detail the issues she’s been having.
She said in the post that she had developed the “twisties,” meaning her brain and her body movements were not in sync, causing her to lose track of where she was in the air. She said Tuesday that they began the day after qualifying, which was July 25.
After Biles struggled during the second night of the Olympic trials, cameras showed her crying, and she later acknowledged that she was more emotional than in 2016 “because of everything I’ve been through.” It was not only her own trauma she was shouldering but that of the hundreds of survivors who don’t have her platform or power. When she speaks, it is on behalf of those women, too.
“We’re not talking about anything crazy. We’re just speaking up for what we believe in and trying to have the wrongs be righted,” Biles told USA TODAY. “It’s things that should have happened years ago.”
On prioritizing mental health
“For a while, I saw a psychologist once every two weeks. That helped me get in tune with myself so that I felt more comfortable and less anxious,” she told Health magazine in June, explaining that she prioritizes her mental health whenever she feels like she needs to.
On the stigma surrounding therapy
“One of the very first (therapy) sessions, I didn’t talk at all,” she told Glamour in June. “I just wouldn’t say anything. I was like, ‘I’m not crazy. I don’t need to be here.'” Over time, however, she learned anyone can benefit from it.
“I thought I could figure it out on my own, but that’s sometimes not the case. And that’s not something you should feel guilty or ashamed of,” she added. “Once I got over that fact, I actually enjoyed it and looked forward to going to therapy. It’s a safe space.”
Biles told Vogue in 2020 that she was “very depressed” in 2016 as fellow gymnasts came forward about Nassar’s abuse.
“At one point, I slept so much because, for me, it was the closest thing to death without harming myself. It was an escape from all of my thoughts, from the world, from what I was dealing with. It was a really dark time,” she said.