Jordan Chiles has opened about how a verbally abusive coach nearly drove her from gymnastics long before she became a crucial part of the Team USA squad that won silver in the team competition in Tokyo this year.
Chiles, 20, spoke with actor Taraji P. Henson and co-host Tracie Jade on Monday's episode of "Peace of Mind with Taraji" on Facebook Watch about how she fought through some negative early experiences with an unnamed coach to continue in the sport she loves.
"So I had a coach verbally abusing me," Chiles said. "She called me fat. She said I looked like a donut. To the littlest things that people asking me, ‘Oh, you’re eating this today.’ And it’s like, ‘Well, I’m not eating because you just triggered my brain.’ And it was really, really hard on me.
"Because I was just like, ‘This is ridiculous. Like, what have I put myself through?’ But I was also enjoying it at the same time. So it was, like, half of my brain was telling me one thing, and half of my brain was telling me another."
Chiles said it took "a huge toll on mental health" for her and there were times she wanted to quit.
“I did, multiple times," she said. "I would always leave a note before I went to school on the kitchen counter and saying, ‘I’m done!’ But I still went to practice that day. So...it was a thought in my head.”
Chiles ended up seeing a sports psychologist at the urging of her mother in order to help her persevere through that time.
"And I was like, ‘I’ve never told anybody any of it, like, any of this ever.’ And she was like, ‘Well, that’s why I’m here,'" Chiles said. "So she helped me through everything, literally everything. And I wish I would’ve done that when I was younger."
Chiles also watched the public mental health struggles of her good friend and superstar teammate, Simone Biles, who withdrew from all but one event in Tokyo after being promoted as a headliner of the Olympics.
"There was a lot," Chiles said. "There was emotions; there was excitement; there was frustration; there was devastation. Still, to this day, I get sometimes emotional about it because it’s just what she went through and then how the media perceived it, it’s just 100% the wrong way.
"It was just very devastating, but I had to put that back because I knew I still had to compete and do this for her because she’s my friend. She’s literally my ride or die. I will do anything for her.”
Biles faced backlash from critics saying she quit on her team while also receiving an outpouring of support from those applauding that she prioritized her mental health. Chiles is firmly in the latter group.
"I don’t care, I’m going to go and take that mental break because I need it, because you’re not the one who’s doing the sport I’m doing," Chiles said. "You’re not the one going out and showing you guys that four minutes of us competing. You’re just seeing the, ‘Oh, you’re so bubbly. You’re doing this. You’re doing that.’ And we’re tired. We need that time to ourselves. We need to be able to make ourselves happy.”
Chiles had to step in for Biles at the last minute after Biles withdrew from the team competition following a shaky showing on the vault.
“I didn’t believe it...it was crazy," Chiles said. "But, mind-wise, I had to switch my brain really, really fast because going into the competition. I only was competing two events. And so switching your brain to competing all four is a little harder because you don’t know what’s going to happen because you really weren’t training for all four."
She also described dealing with the lofty expectations that come with being a member of the U.S. gymnastics team and the sacrifice it requires.
"You don’t have time for vacations like everybody else," she said. "You don’t have time to go to proms and homecomings. They don’t know what happens in our family. They don’t know all the other logistics of things that go on in our life. And it sucks. It really does suck because behind the scenes is totally different than what we’re showing.
https://www.today.com/today/amp/rcna4853"It’s really, really hard to deal with injuries. You’re just not able to go a day without getting injured, not having the proper coaching because they just think that something’s wrong with you. Also, I mean, there’s a lot of mental health, physical health that comes into being a gymnast, and it takes a toll on your body.”
Chiles also feels more pressure due to her body type as a Black woman.
“I’ve always thought race was something that was in gymnastics," she said. "Race, how your body looks. For instance, I have a butt. Some others might not. So we can be in a perfect handstand, and they can still take a deduction. So yeah, I wish judging wasn’t so on one body type. And I think that’s where all the political and racism come into the matter.”