At the Olympics the top gymnast in the world withdrew from the team event and now the all around finals for mental health issues. I’m embarrassed to say my first reaction was “really? you trained your whole life for this moment and are pulling out?” But then I realized my reaction was entirely based on my own history of abusing my body for my craft and Biles is one heck of a human for choosing a different path.

My first career was as a classical musician. Bassoon. When I first started, the instrument was taller than I was, the hand reach far exceeded my hand size but that didn’t stop me. I played professionally for 15 years and retired about 7 year ago at the ripe old age of 33 with a very damaged body. Reflecting on my career and my reaction to Biles withdrawing made me acknowledge for the first time that checking myself out the hospital once, when I had a suspected appendicitis, to play an orchestral concert, was probably not the smartest thing. But I did it because I couldn’t not show up for my section, the orchestra, the conductor I was afraid of and my grade in the class (as that was when I was a student at Northwestern). So I did take myself from the hospital, to the stage, then back to the hospital. I didn’t die so I considered it a win. Turned out it wasn’t my appendix but instead an ovarian cyst, so no biggie, right. But looking back from this mental health trend, what message did I send myself about my own body and needs by ignoring them and medical advice to play the concert.

Let’s be clear, playing bassoon is a LOT less risky to do on an “off” day than twisting and flipping through the air. So I’m glad I didn’t have to watch an amazing Olympian injure herself by pushing when she knew she didn’t have it in her. I am disappointed I don’t get to see her perform but I also feel like the conversation she and Naomi Osaka started are so much more important. It never occured to me I could say no. The story above is just one of many I have of playing injured. To this day I have permanent injuries from my career that maybe I wouldn’t have had if I had knew I had a choice. Maybe I wouldn’t have had two shoulder surgeries if I knew I was allowed to listen to my body and actually give it what it needed instead of pushing aside it’s needs to perform on cue. So I am in awe of the women that are letting the world know they DO have a choice.

It seems fitting today that the Aerial Dance Meme is “remember that your desires, needs, and feeling matter, even when they conflict with someone else.

So when you show up at class and your body is asking you to stay grounded that day, listen. There are other days to take to the air. There are other days to push through and when you truly pay attention you’ll learn which is which. Listen to your needs and know that you will always be supported at Aerial Dance when you make them known.

Side note on this: I wonder if Biles had her family there if she would have felt different? I wonder what type of support lacking at these covid games will become part of future games when we recognize that human connection is critical to mental health.