Today* is the last game in my adult recreational softball season. I wonder what Simone Biles is up to.
I have already:
Today I will:
Of course it doesn’t matter! I am a nobody, playing a sport for recreation. My team is below .500. I am not the best player in the league. This isn’t even the best league in the area! Nevertheless, I will apply pressure on myself to perform to a level I feel proud of, and I will call on invisible shamans embedded in minerals jangling around my sports bra for the assist.
Oh, it doesn’t? Ask the biggest ballbreaker in your fantasy football league what he thinks about her withdrawing from the 2020 Olympics. It matters, alright. (And if you’re still not convinced her decision was the right one, take 27 minutes to open your mind to the possibility (18 minutes and 36 seconds if you listen at 1.5x speed)).
Simone Biles, who rose to prominence a decade ago when she won her first women’s gymnastic world championship. A decade! In women’s gymnastics!! These 2023 world championships may as well be held in a crypt!!!
Instead, they are in Antwerp, the very same city where Biles began racking up medals (33 and counting) in her legendary career. Poetry.
And while Biles is the pre-eminent individual athlete, she’s a physical and moral leader on the U.S. team, which has earned gold in every world championship since 2011 (pulling ahead of a record previously held by the Chinese men’s gymnastic team).
Simone Biles, whose abilities are so dominant and death-defying, that they have forced edits to the Olympic rule book on four occasions.
With one misstep, Simone Biles could [REDACTED… this piece is about superstition, after all] on an international stage of ~15 million viewers.
Simone Biles’s natural aptitude for gymnastics is remarkable. Her lifelong commitment to training is astonishing. She is the best gymnast of all time (and I’m sure someone more qualified than me could argue, the best athlete of all time).
Where I, easily not the best athlete of all time, can connect to Simone Biles, is the way she returned to the sport after a crushing setback.
Beyond confidence, Biles’s decision not to compete in women’s finals in the Tokyo Olympics was an issue of safety; her risk of injury (or worse) was real. No one would have been surprised if Simone Biles, the all-time most accomplished gymnast, retired from her sport right then and there.
But she didn’t.
Last year, I sustained an injury very common among female athletes. It’s not the worst thing that’s ever happened to me, but certainly wasn’t the best. I had an outstanding surgeon who gave me confidence not just in his abilities, but in my own. I had a full roster of family and friends cheering on my recovery. I had a job that could accommodate my physical therapy schedule and keep me off my feet.
At the beginning of my 2023 softball season, I had butterflies that eclipsed any I’d ever felt. I knew that if I played with fear, it would imprint on some secret cavern in my brain and prevent me from performing to my high-water mark.
“I’m nervous!” I told the umpire the first time I stepped up to bat.
Like so many friends in my corner, he said, “You got this.” And I did.
And so every game, I move through my pre-game ritual. The 28-day old water I drink while listening to Pusha T. My “forgetting” something in the car. Offerings to the cosmos I invented and complicated through years and years of only growing weirder.
Is it that, that helps me succeed? Or my lifelong commitment to training? I’ll never know.
Either way, I wish Simone Biles’s little spandex leotard had a pocket for a crystal. I’d send her an agate or two.
*Today actually is not the last game of my season; we played our championship game (and lost, but with dignity as a team; and 0 errors, a triple, and a 1.000 OBP by me) last week. I started this essay a few weeks back when Simone Biles took first place in the U.S. Women’s World Championship qualifying rounds. She is such an elite competitor that by the time I got around to finishing it, she was making headlines again. I think about her mental fortitude, competing at the highest levels and on the world’s stage; then I think about my own and am humbled.