Simone Biles sparks mental health conversations among local gymnasts and coaches

NEW HANOVER COUNTY (WWAY) — Simone Biles pulling out of gymnastic competitions to focus on her mental health has ignited conversations across the country.

Cape Fear coaches say mental health is a big, and often overlooked factor within the sport.

Port City Gymnastics competes with 55 children ages six through 14, some at skill levels just shy of the Olympics. With standards high, Coach Catherine Harley said tensions can be even higher.

“I mean, we’re on a four inch beam that’s about four feet high,” said Harley. “It’s pretty mental sometimes when they get up there to the older levels.”

Mental health is so intertwined in the sport, the slightest nerve can hurt a routine and sometimes athletes.

According to Harley, “If you freak out and you’re up in the air flying, that’s balking. You’re not going through the skill completely. And that leads to a lot of injuries.”

Which is why Coastal Horizon’s Cristin Williams says Simone Biles’ pulling out of Olympic events to focus on mental health is monumental.

“Oftentimes it’s just try harder. Do more. Be better. That’s really difficult because it’s not that simple or that easy.”

Anxiety, especially coupled with sexual abuse, like what Simone Biles says she suffered at the hands of USA gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, can have consequences.

“I think that there’s still some stigma around it. It’s still something not everyone feels comfortable talking about. Trauma in general can oftentimes lead to mental health struggles.”

Biles taking this time has not only vaulted mental health onto the mat, it’s also setting an example for gymnasts and coaches no matter their age.

“It’s ok to have a day and you know,” Harley continued, “even the greatest of all time is still human.”
“I just think that when you work so hard to get to something that you want,” said beginner gymnast, Avery McDermott. “You have to just take time to think about it. And then you’ll get more into that thing you want to do.”

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