Even the greatest of all time (GOAT) athletes are human. This was proven by gymnastics dynamo Simone Biles today when she opted to withdraw from participating in the women's team final events in Tokyo.
When the news lit up our cell phone screens through alerts all morning (late night in Tokyo), the unthinkable had happened. No, Biles hadn’t contracted COVID-19; no, she had not been seriously injured. In a press conference she revealed that her withdrawal from the competition was a mental health decision. She knew that if she wasn’t 100 percent mentally in the game, she was most certainly going to hurt herself. So she stepped back and let her three remaining teammates finish the job—which they did, winning a team silver medal for the United States.
What happened to “win at all costs”? Come injury or personal emergency, if an athlete could still stand, they were competing. For isn’t that how Olympians are supposed to function? Once upon a time, maybe. But the times, they’ve been a-changin’.
There are no medals for us to win in this life.
“I just felt like it would be a little bit better to take a back seat and work on my mindfulness,” Biles was quoted in a Washington Post article.
Some may say because she has won her gold medals; has four skills in elite gymnastics named for her; has millions to her name from prizes, endorsements, and sponsorships, that she doesn’t have anything to prove to anyone.
But even at the top of your game, making it to the Olympics or at any high peak of sport, the decision to step away to take care of yourself is a very difficult one.
We Change as We Mature
I watched an interview with Biles last night where she talked about the differences she felt between when she was age 19 at the Rio games and now. She mentioned never going to the gym without something hurting these days; but more telling, she said she was a lot more fearless at age 19, but less so now. Such is the beauty of maturing—now she knows how high the stakes are, how difficult must be the skills she executes on the mat, bars, and vault. With each push to do more, be more, show more, comes the risk of serious injury. And that has weighed heavily on her, as it should.
Biles wouldn’t make a very good church worker anymore. Church workers are notorious “over-workers.” That’s right. In the pursuit of passion for Christ and spreading His Word, accomplishing the gospel mission, in the winning of souls and all the minutiae that come with those important calls, we can push ourselves in the name of faith to places that aren’t good for us to go.
How many of us stop to check up on our mental health? Our emotional health? Our spiritual health? Just because we work for the Lord doesn't mean all these crucial needs are met through our work. While the mission is an anointed one, sometimes it’s very hard. And because we are human, we can get hurt. There are times we need to take a step back, reevaluate, and ask for help. It’s OK to not be OK.
Christ never asked us to labor in His vineyard at the expense of losing ourselves to anything but Him. In our weakness, He has promised to be our strength. And all we need to claim that, is to ask Him.
There are no medals for us to win in this life. The glory will come only from and through the One who has already accomplished all.
Wilona Karimabadi is an assistant editor for Adventist Review and Adventist World magazines.