Thursday, July 29, 2021

The Horse Doesn't Even Get a Medal!

I realize now that I have made an error. I should have switched this blog over to an all Olympics theme while the Tokyo games are going on. I think it would have been fun because I know so very very little about sports. I would have written posts with titles like: “So Fencing is Still a Thing, Apparently” or “Dressage is an Olympic Event, but The Horse Doesn’t Get the Medal???”

Alas, I missed the boat on all that.

However, I was reading this morning about Simone Biles and how she pulled out of her gymnastic event the other day. I’ve got nothing but love for her and how great is it that she was willing to do that to safeguard her own mental health?! We should all be a little more like her.

I had heard yesterday that she referenced something colloquially called “the twisties” when she was explaining why she’d stepped back from competing. I’d assumed that this was a term that the kids use to mean “nerves” or performance anxiety or something along those lines. Like when I was young and did theater and would get super nervous right before going on stage. 

This morning though I discovered that that is not exactly what she’d meant. Amongst gymnasts the term “twisties” actually has a very specific meaning that the rest of us wouldn’t even understand. It has to do with performing the sort of twisting or flipping or rotational moves that gymnasts (especially at Biles’s level) do during their events. It is not uncommon that when making these fast and frequently airborne moves that an athlete can essentially lose track of where their body is in relation to their surroundings. 

I’d honestly neve thought about this before. If you leap through the air while flipping, obviously you need to know - know in your bones - where the various parts of your body are in relation to the floor so that you can get your feet to land on it. Your brain has to be making calculations and adjustments IN MID-AIR WHILE SPINNING! So if you lose track and get lost, you are in grave danger and it seems like a really good way to break your neck.

That is what a gymnast is talking about when they say “twisties”.

How insanely terrifying is that???

Apparently that is what Biles experienced the other day and so it isn’t simply a case of stage fright. It is more like flying a jet through the mountains and suddenly you go blind. So while I think all right thinking people were already sympathetic to the idea that She needed to step back for her own mental health, the reality is actually more than that: she was making a responsible decision based on the status she was getting from the jet that is her body. She had some warning lights going off and so she behaved accordingly. 

Can you imagine the discipline and self-awareness that it takes for someone as young as she is, at the pinnacle of her sport, and competing in the GD Olympics to make a decision that smart? To not be cowed by other people’s expectations? To not allow herself to be forced by ego and ambition to do something her body was telling her not to do? As a lifelong maker of bad and impulsive decisions, I’m really humbled thinking about it. Well done Miss Biles.

If you’d like to know more about ‘the twisties”, NPR has a pretty good article about it here.




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