Little Rock gymnasts reflect on gymnastics and mental health


LITTLE ROCK, Ark – Olympic gymnast Simone Biles dropped out of the gymnastics team final Tuesday, saying she needed to focus on her mental health. 

Gymnasts in Little Rock and the surrounding areas are now praising Biles for her decision saying people need to normalize mental health as a component of the game. 

“How cool is it that we live in a country where the best athlete in the world can say I need help it’s too much for me and we rally behind her,” Competitive Gymnastics Team Director for Leah’s Gymnastics and Cheerleading Tara Shelton said. 

Tara Shelton has been coaching on the mat for 10 years and said athletes feeling the pressure is nothing new. 

“We have to monitor their moods; we have to monitor their attitude. If they’re not having fun then what’s it worth?” Shelton said. 

Shelton said when you get to the big leagues, the pressure soars to new heights. 

“You’re kind of never off the clock in gymnastics,” Shelton said. “If you’re a gymnast, you’re a gymnast 24 hours a day.”

UAMS Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry Jessica Coker said media coverage of Biles naming her as the greatest gymnast of all time could have contributed to her stress as an athlete. 

“I can’t imagine hearing that over and over how much stress that would put on somebody,” Coker said. 

Coker said the name plus possible trauma from a former trainer and a competition postponed due to COVID-19 could have also had an impact. 

“This pattern of multiple stressors over time can have that impact of mental health confidence and their self-esteem,” Coker said. 

Little Rock gymnasts said they want to remind themselves that sometimes the greatest athletes of all time need a mental health day and it’s ok and should be encouraged to take one. 

“[The competition] is not worth the wear it’s taking on your mind,” Shelton said. 

Biles pulled out of the team competition. She can still compete individually if she chooses. 

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