I remember the first time I watched Kerri Strug’s one-leg vault, I felt sick to my stomach. The conversations around me were centered on how “brave” she had been. As a fellow teenager, I was terrified that she was encouraged to injure herself for the sake of Olympic gold. Why would her coach, who I naively thought would always put her well-being first, encourage a vault that, as I found out later, precipitated the end of her gymnastics career?
I rewatched this one-leg vault recently and cried. I was and still am so angry at the coach, whose name I don’t even want to mention. And it made me thing of how so many people around us are pushed to the edge by a culture that values a very extreme definition of success that only celebrates the seemingly unachievable, only to turn on the person achieving this “success” when they can’t hang on to it. I’m thinking for example of Britney Spears, who was pushed to the edge, had a breakdown, and was then locked against her will in a conservatorship, with a previously adoring the media and public also turning against her.
And yet, the people and the machinery involved in these falls keep going… including us, the public.
No one should be seen as disposable, or as just a means to get a gold medal. Gymnasts are seen as disposable, and only celebrated when they bring home the gold, which is ridiculous; any gymnast who makes it to the Olympics should be, in my mind, celebrated. But, again, culturally, only extreme definitions of success are worthy of mention.
This makes what Simone Biles did at Tokyo 2020 even more amazing: She stood up to a system that puts medals before people. And this is what makes those of us supporting her decision amazing: We are standing up to a narrow definition of “success”. We are celebrating the courage it took for Simone to put both her well-being and her team first. We are in awe of the support she has been pouring on her teammates.
This is something we all need and can do: Stand up to a system that puts materialism before everything. How many of us have burnt out (some more than once) because we were caught in a system that had us convinced that we have to chase the gold standard?
It isn’t easy making choices that are different from the norm. It isn’t easy willingly giving up the gold medal or the gold standard because we want to put our well-being (in Simone Biles case, mental and physical, in our case, mental and spiritual) first. My husband and I regularly face comments about how our choices are “weird” or “very hippy”, with some people even stating that we are causing harm to our child (and don’t get me started on the use of parental anxieties to align parents to this system). But maybe, just maybe, these choices are going to mean that the next generation will choose to walk away from something the system tells them that they supposedly have to do, so that they can thrive spiritually, mentally, emotionally — and even materially.
I really hope that what Simone Biles did will inspire even more people to step away (as much as possible, of course) from a system that doesn’t put the spiritual, mental, emotional, physical, and even material well-being of our children first, and that we can build a completely new system in which everyone will prosper spiritually and materially.
I want to redefine the gold standard in a way that everyone can achieve it.