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What Lessons Did Simone Biles Teach Us?

Jessica Pontis, LCSW

In 1996, Olympic athlete Kerri Shrug made history with her one-legged vault.  Having sustained an ankle injury after her first attempt, she rallied for her team and performed her second vault injured.  It wasn’t until she landed that the world could see her pain.  Not able to stand, Kerri crawled on hands and knees to the arms of her coach who had to carry her off the platform.  Kerri’s choice to participate in her second vault helped the Women’s U.S. gymnastics team win gold for the first time in history.  As she was carried around to wave at the crowd and smile through the pain, a new standard was set.  Athletes were expected to perform and grimace through the pain for the glory and approval, regardless of the consequences. Kerri Shrug went on to be a household name, winning not only a gold medal but many big-name campaigns.  Kerri would also go on to never again participate in the sport that made her famous.  

Now we fast forward to 2021, where one of the most decorated athletes in the world made the excruciating choice to prioritize her wellness over the expectations of a nation.  Simone Biles had choice and decided that her wellness was more important than the “win at all costs” mentally that has been pushed within the sport for decades.  Simone later went on to explain that her mind and body were not in sync, she reported the immense amount of pressure she felt to be perfect, and the fear of the very real dangers that come with flipping and twisting your body in the air.  Simone was supported in this decision by her team and her coaches, Kerri very well would not have been.  

Simone recognized that her mental state at the time was not connected with the goals predetermined for her, and she chose to step away instead of risking significant bodily harm.  While it seems most are in full support, there are those who criticize her choice.  I would say to them that I hope that they never have to be in her position.  That they would never have to feel such an immense pressure and expectations to perform that they would considering risking potentially irreparable injury for the sake of satisfying others.  

As I sit and reflect on Simone’s choice, I can’t help but think about how powerful an example she set for everyone struggling in tough situations.  I am inspired by her choice, the choice to prioritize her mental and physical wellness over the desire or expectation to be perfect.  Simone set a new standard, one that changes the narrative about an individual’s power.  In a culture that deters us from prioritizing out own wellness, Simone picked the difficult path, that path of nonconformity.  

I often have conversations with my clients about holding themselves to the same consideration of others.  We talk about how it’s so easy to put the needs of others before our own, the challenges that come with setting boundaries, and the desire to people please.  The lesson that Simone Biles taught us is universal, that we always have the power to say no.  That our wellness in all ways comes first.  That setting boundaries around things that may harm us is always an option.  I commend Simone for having the courage to take a step back when others wanted her to perform.  We are not circus animals, we are human beings deserving of dignity and choice, and we can all take a page out of Ms. Biles handbook. 

If you struggle to prioritize your health and wellness, or you feel that you would like to connect with someone to walk with you on your journey reach out to one of the licensed therapists with Symmetry Counseling.  You can reach out to us online at, or by calling us at (312) 578-9990 to set up an appointment.    

Schuman, R. (2021, July 31). Kerri Strug shouldn’t have been forced to do that vault. Slate Magazine. 

Sanchez , R. (2021, July 30). ABC news. 

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