Wellness Wednesday: what makes an athlete strong – is Simone Biles shifting the narrative?

Wellness Wednesday

Simone Biles, of the United States, performs her floor routine during the women’s artistic gymnastic qualifications at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Sunday, July 25, 2021, in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Simone Biles, Team USA helping highlight strength of mental health awareness

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — All eyes are on the Tokyo Olympics and Simone Biles.

Her decision to prioritize mental health and pull out of a number of events has sparked a conversation nationwide, possibly shifting the narrative about what makes an athlete strong.

When you watch the Olympics, the physical strength of the athletes is clear. Simone Biles is now teaching the nation their mental strength is conditioned even more.

“There’s a lot of pressure even from a young age, but you do learn to cope with it,” said Megan Haberern, a former collegiate gymnast and a coach.

Haberern says mental blocks come and go like they do with any sport. At the Olympic level though, she imagines the pressure is unlike any other competition.

She was shocked watching Biles on vault, the event that triggered her pulling out of several Olympic events.

“It basically comes down to that she is human,” said Haberern.

As a former gymnast herself, Haberern also knows the pressure these athletes are under. To anyone calling Biles a “quitter,” Haberern says Biles is the opposite.

“Simone ultimately did not trust herself and she made the right decision,” Haberern said, adding that Biles helped her team get a silver medal by stepping aside when she knew she wasn’t in the right headspace to compete.

In gymnastics, if your mind isn’t there, your body won’t do what it’s trained to. That’s what happened to Biles when she had what Haberern calls “the twisties.”

The twisties is when you get lost, completely lost in the air. You just don’t know where you are. You’re lost and when you’re doing multiple flips and multiple twists you need to know where you are in the air.

Megan Haberern

If you don’t have that air awareness, the sport these athletes love so much can become dangerous.

Yet, oftentimes, an athlete’s strength is measured by how much they push through rather than being able to acknowledge when something becomes unsafe.

Now, Biles could help change the narrative for gymnasts all over the country, like Emma Colicci, who says you have to put yourself first.

“I get mental blocks, which is where your brain tells you like you can’t do this even though your body is fully capable of doing it,” said Colicci. “I think your mental health is so much more important than anything else.”

No matter the stakes, they say it takes more strength and courage to know your limits — not just with your body but with your mind.

“That’s a true athlete. Not only competing but standing there and supporting your team.”

Megan Haberern

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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