Simone Biles is widely considered the greatest female gymnast of all time. When she withdrew from the team all-around competition at the Tokyo Olympics yesterday, her decision made global headlines. Now USA Gymnastics is announcing this morning that she will not participate in the individual all-around competition as well.
“After further medical evaluation, Simone Biles has withdrawn from the final individual all-around competition at the Tokyo Olympic Games,” according to the statement posted on Twitter. “We wholeheartedly support Simone’s decision and applaud her bravery in prioritizing her well-being. Her courage shows, yet again, why she is a role model for so many.”
When she withdrew yesterday “due to a medical issue,” she later clarified that what she called her “demons”—the doubts, fear, insecurities, and pressure she faces as a competitor—became too much. Now she has withdrawn from the individual all-around competition and will be evaluated daily to determine whether she can “participate in next week’s individual event finals.”
Two-time Olympian Aly Raisman said, “I’m just thinking about the mental impact this has to have on Simone. It’s just so much pressure. It’s just devastating. I feel horrible.” She added, “There’s only so much someone can take. She’s human and I think sometimes people forget that.”
“A legend in her prime”
Nadia Comaneci, who scored the first perfect ten in gymnastics history, said of her, “If we’re talking about domination, nothing like that has ever happened in our sport. I don’t think there will ever be anything like that. She’s one of a kind.”
But few who knew her as a baby could have predicted such greatness.
Simone was born in Columbus, Ohio, the third of four siblings. Her birth mother was unable to care for her children, so all four went in and out of foster care. In 2000, her maternal grandfather and his wife began temporarily caring for the children in the Houston suburb of Spring. Three years later, they officially adopted Simone and her younger sister Adria. Their mother’s aunt adopted the two oldest children.
Simone first tried gymnastics as part of a daycare field trip when she was six years old. The instructors were impressed and suggested that she continue with the sport. She began training with a coach at age eight and began her elite career at the age of fourteen.
She was also diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder as a child. She has been on medication and has disclosed her condition to authorities, receiving a medical exemption for competition.
Tragically, she disclosed in 2018 that former USA Gymnastics physician Larry Nassar had sexually assaulted her. In May 2018, it was announced that she and the other survivors would receive the Arthur Ashe Courage Award.
“He’s the One who directs your life”
Simone adopted the Catholic faith of her grandparents. In discussing her autobiography, Courage to Soar, she said, “I wanted to talk about family, competition, and things like downfalls and injuries so kids can understand that I go through those things, too. Kids today talk about faith, and I think it’s OK for me to share my faith so kids can see how it helps you through the whole process.”
Her grandmother has encouraged Simone to put her life and career in God’s hands: “I am a very prayerful person, so I encourage my children to do the same thing, too, to pray. And 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.”
Simone has taken that lesson to heart. She testifies, “I was taught that you can go to him for anything and he’s the One who directs your life.”
She saw God’s hand in her success and also in her disappointments, such as when she failed to make the 2011 team. She says, “I didn’t make the National team, so I was super upset about that. But I knew that it was God’s way of telling me that I needed to go home, train harder, so that next year I could make it happen. So, I believe that some obstacles that we’ve had always work out for the better because God knows that without those you wouldn’t be as strong as you are.”
Reflections from a mental health professional
I am not a mental health professional, which is why our ministry enlisted the aid of Dr. Lane Ogden, a psychologist and therapist of more than thirty-five years, to discuss this vital subject. I urge you to read his reflections here and apply his insights in your life and relationships.
However, I can say that Simone Biles is right: God either removes our challenges or redeems them for larger purposes. He miraculously freed Paul from his Philippian jail (Acts 16:25–26), but he did not remove his “thorn in the flesh” despite the apostle’s repeated entreaties (2 Corinthians 12:8). Instead, God used this “thorn” to draw Paul into greater dependence on himself. As a result, Paul wrote these immortal words: “When I am weak, then I am strong” (v. 10).
Our performance-based society measures us by what we do and how well we do it. But God wants us to see our challenges differently—as opportunities to experience his grace, strength, and guidance.
We can be self-sufficient or we can be Spirit-dependent, but we cannot be both.
“The path your life is to take”
In Keeping Hope: Favorite Prayers for Modern Living, Michel Quoist writes, “Don’t refuse to acknowledge your limitations. To deny their existence doesn’t make them go away. If they do exist, ignoring them would give them the opportunity to undermine and destroy your life.”
Instead, he observes, “Your limitations are not simply obstacles to your success—they are also indications from God of the path your life is to take.”
What limitation does God want to redeem in your life today?
NOTE: For more on God’s ability to redeem our challenges, please see my new website articles, “Warm weather may have revealed Michelangelo’s fingerprint in London” and “Lydia Jacoby, small-town teenager, shocks with Olympic gold in swimming.”