Simone Biles was named Time magazine’s Athlete of the Year for being a pillar of courage when she prioritized her mental health during the Summer Olympics in Tokyo and took a stand to testify against former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar weeks later.
Biles, the most decorated gymnast of all time, pulled out of several events at the Tokyo Games, citing her mental wellness and experiencing "the twisties." Those decisions didn't come easy, nor without critics, though she was praised by her teammates and other public figures for putting her own well-being first.
“To see her choose herself, we’re going to see the effects of that for the next generation,” Olympian Allyson Felix told Time. The track and field great is no stranger to adversity, having survived a life-threatened pregnancy in 2018 to eventually qualify for her fifth Olympics this summer — with her daughter there to cheer her on.
“When thinking about role models for Cammy, wow, here is someone showing you can choose your mental health over what the world says is the most important thing.”
Biles' teammate Sunisa Lee agreed. “What Simone did changed the way we view our well-being, 100%," she noted. "It showed us that we are more than the sport, that we are human beings who also can have days that are hard. It really humanized us.”
When Biles opted out of the women's gymnastics all-around final, Lee stepped up to the plate. “We all knew we had to continue not without her, but for her,” she told Time.
Biles cheered Lee on from the sidelines and watched her win her first Olympics gold medal.
Biles showed another act of courage when she appeared before a Senate Judiciary Committee in September to testify about her experience as a survivor of sexual abuse by Nassar, the former team doctor who is serving up to 175 years in prison for multiple sex crimes. She and other gymnasts attended the hearing on the FBI and USA Gymnastics’ mishandling of the Nassar investigation.
Colin Kaepernick, former quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, raved about the “grace, eloquence and courage" that Biles used when she spoke before the committee.
"Simone Biles has used her remarkable position as the world’s greatest gymnast ever to inspire a long-overdue global conversation on mental health,” the civil rights activist told Time. “Her influence extends far beyond the realm of sports and shows us that another world — better world — is possible when we speak our truths with integrity and authenticity.”