The magazine recognized her role in sparking a broader cultural conversation on the importance of mental health.
Gymnast Simone Biles has been named Times magazine's 2021 athlete of the year. Apart from her own achievements in the field, she was lauded for bringing “mental health to the forefront of a broader cultural conversation” this year. Biles withdrew from four individual finals at the Tokyo Olympics because she was suffering from "the twisties," a condition experienced by gymnasts where they lose control of their bodies mid-air. She faced a mixed reaction, but the majority lauded her for prioritizing her mental and physical well-being. “I do believe everything happens for a reason, and there was a purpose,” Biles told Time in an interview four months later. “Not only did I get to use my voice, but it was validated as well.”
Biles said she had to listen to her body once she started experiencing "the twisties," which can result in serious injuries. “I had no idea where I was in the air,” said Biles at the time. “I could have hurt myself.” She knew she had to withdraw from the individual events. Biles explained she would have been putting herself at risk if she had ignored the "twisties". "Say up until you’re 30 years old, you have your complete eyesight. One morning, you wake up, you can’t see shit, but people tell you to go on and do your daily job as if you still have your eyesight. You’d be lost, wouldn’t you? That’s the only thing I can relate it to. I have been doing gymnastics for 18 years. I woke up—lost it. How am I supposed to go on with my day?" she said, reported The Cut.
.@Simone_Biles’ assuredness in speaking her truth and taking ownership of her fate offered permission for athletes and non-athletes alike to talk more openly about challenges they’d once kept to themselves #TIMEPOY https://t.co/O7zocoZh9f— TIME (@TIME) December 10, 2021
She did compete in the balance beam event, in which she earned a bronze medal. “At that point, it was no longer about medaling, but about getting back out there,” said Biles, on her competing in the balance beam event. “I wanted to compete at the Olympics again and have that experience that I came for. I didn’t really care about the outcome. On that beam, it was for me.”
She has no regrets about Tokyo and looks back proudly. "That's probably one of the first times in my career where I felt courageous and I felt like I had got to speak up for myself," she said after being named one of PEOPLE's 2021 People of the Year. "[I] definitely can walk away from Tokyo, feeling courage, feeling at ease. And I did everything I could." Being considered the greatest American gymnast, her voice on mental health issues has elevated the conversation on the topic which is highly stigmatized. "It really showed me a different side of myself and how people see me, not just an athlete but as a human, and that was really different for me," she said.
Colin Kaepernick praised Biles for highlighting the importance of mental health in the world of sport and beyond. "She used her remarkable position as the world’s greatest gymnast ever to inspire a long-overdue global conversation on mental health,” said Kaepernick. “Her influence extends far beyond the realm of sports and shows us that another world ― a better world ― is possible when we speak our truths with integrity and authenticity.”
Time also lauded the gymnast's powerful testimony against convicted former USA Gymnastics team doctor, Larry Nassar who had sexually abused her. The Senate hearing looked into the failures of the FBI and several institutions, including USA Gymnastics, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, and Michigan State University, to protect child athletes from Nassar. “I blame Larry Nassar and I also blame an entire system that enabled and perpetrated his abuse,” she said in her testimony, reported The Guardian. “USA Gymnastics and the United States, Olympic and Paralympic Committee knew that I was abused by their official team doctor long before I was ever made aware of their knowledge.”