Simone Biles' decision to put mental health first inspires local athletes

HUNTINGTON, Long Island (WABC) -- Simone Biles made the bold decision to pull out of two Olympic competitions to put her mental health first and that move is inspiring other athletes and helping them redefine strength.

Anaya Rodriguez, the 14-year-old New York State Gymnastics champ watched it all unfold Wednesday morning.

There was confusion at first.

Biles is Rodriguez's hero, but at Gold Medal Gymnastics in Huntington, there has been plenty of follow-up discussion about what makes a hero - and sometimes it's tough decisions.

"If you are not feeling like you could do something in a safe manner, you need to have an open-door policy with your coaches and your family," said Gold Medal Gymnastics coach Barbara Tiess.

"In this sport, especially, that any little thing that you do incorrectly can be unsafe," said Rodriguez's mother Elizabeth.

Rodriguez's parents explained they were heartbroken too as they watched - but were in awe of Biles' strength.

For Rodriguez, who is expected to go out for the national team in January, it takes plenty of emotional coaching, visualization and team support.

Another key is constant repetition.

RELATED | Simone Biles withdraws from all-around competition at Tokyo Summer Games
EMBED More News Videos

The American gymnastics superstar withdrew from Thursday's all-around competition to focus on her mental well-being.



"I just like close my eyes, it's like I'm at practice, it's the same equipment, I can do it, I know that I can do it," Rodriguez said.

One way to stay calm in gymnastics is having other hobbies. When Rodriguez is not busy on beam and bars, she actually likes baking cookies and she likes math.

And so, as America watches some of its most elite athletes continue to open up about their struggles, experts say Biles won't be the last.

"The pandemic has made emotional concerns normal table conversation," Northwell Health Psychiatrist Dr. Victor Fornari.

They say physical and emotional strength must go hand in hand.

"And at the end of every practice, I'll ask her how she's doing, did you have fun?" Rodriguez's dad Armando Rodriguez said.

And as long as that balance remains in tact, it's golden.



----------
* More Long Island news
* Send us a news tip
* Download the abc7NY app for breaking news alerts
* Follow us on YouTube
Submit a News Tip
Copyright © 2021 WABC-TV. All Rights Reserved.