While I have not followed the Olympics closely this year, Simone Biles pulling out of competition has been hard to miss. I have read articles praising her courage and critiques denouncing her as a quitter who let down her team and the United States as a whole.
Thirty years ago, I was a gymnast with Olympic aspirations. I was only 16 at the time but had hoped to one day compete on the Olympic stage. Things did not work out that way for me.
One evening at the gym, I was practicing a full-twisting-double-front somersault, lost my orientation in the air, and dove headfirst into a pit filled with foam rubber blocks. The foam should have cushioned my fall. But my entry angle while twisting resulted in my knifing through the foam to the pit floor, landing on my head and being paralyzed from the chest down, a quadriplegic.
I can attest from experience that the things elite gymnasts are doing today require ridiculous mental sharpness. In gymnastics, the ability to keep track of the positioning and form of arms, legs, and body while maintaining spatial awareness in the air is incredible, even in basic skills. The skills that Biles typically does with ease are much more than what I did when competing. If her mind is not perfectly attuned, she could risk permanent injury. She not only could prematurely end her gymnastics career but also upend or limit any plans that she may have beyond gymnastics. An injury such as mine not only affected my life but my family and friends as well.
My disability is something that I live with every day. It limits my activities and dictates my schedule. I cannot live independently, requiring assistance with daily living activities. So long as I live, my disability will always factor into everything I do.
For Biles, pushing through and performing would have been reckless and senseless. I agree that it took courage to be open and honest with herself, set aside her pride, and step away. She has nothing to prove at this point in her life. Stepping away also gave other athletes time to shine.
The more I think about this, the more I wonder if I had been honest with myself at the time of my injury. Thinking back thirty years isn’t easy, and I don’t want to get caught up in “what-ifs.” But I recall mentally struggling with advanced skills that required a greater degree of spatial awareness. I did not always know where I was in the air with multiple flips and twists.
When I was ten years old, I found that God had gifted me in gymnastics. My initial eagerness to learn and improve my skill level quickly resulted in puffed-up pride in my abilities. I lived for the momentary pleasures and the rewards that came with it. Eventually, gymnastics became so much a part of who I was that I found myself living to satisfy what I perceived as the expectations that I had for myself and others had for me.
The initial enjoyment that I had in the sport had diminished. But a championship-caliber gymnast was what I was, and I pushed myself to succeed.
Don’t get me wrong. I still enjoyed gymnastics. But after six years, it was more about it being a defining factor in my life than an enjoyable pastime. I never vocalized these feelings but pressed on. I had no intention of giving up at that point. I could not imagine my life without gymnastics and was not inclined to begin redefining my life at that point. I still hoped to compete in college and had distant dreams of Olympic glory. I was living for the moment with no experiential conception of eternity.
If I had been honest with myself, I might have concluded that I had reached my peak in gymnastics, and it was time to move on. But I didn’t, and God made that decision for me. He is in control and had bigger plans for my life, including my accident, recovery, and ongoing trials. I now understand that God created us as eternal beings for a lasting relationship with Him. The lives that we live are short compared with eternity for which He created us. We each have a limited amount of time to make a difference in this world, and then we die. At that moment, if we have developed a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, we will spend eternity in heaven with Him.
As Biles stated, life is about more than gymnastics. I don’t know anything about her life outside of gymnastics or where she stands on faith issues. But I commend her for taking the stand that she did. I hope and pray that this condition of hers clears up and she competes again. But I also hope that she recognizes the end when it comes. She is an incredible gymnast, and I wish the best for her.
If you do not know Jesus as Lord and Savior, take time today to enter into an eternal relationship with Him. Humble yourself before Him, repent of your sins, and accept God’s gift of forgiveness, made available through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
If you wish to know more about me, my accident, and recovery, please check out my book, Eternity in View