The Olympics have always been one of my favorite events.
I was a runner growing up, so I have always enjoyed watching track and field, specifically distance running. And this year, I enjoyed following women’s volleyball with my daughter, who is a rising high school player. She plays left side, so we were amazed by all of the big hitters!
In 2000, I was fortunate to represent the USA as a member of the men’s basketball team. Competing in the Olympics and winning a gold medal was a lifelong dream.
The Opening Ceremony was — and still is — the hallmark event of the Olympics for me. I loved seeing all the athletes representing their countries, some past Olympic stars, and many on the brink of stardom. I think the opening ceremony is symbolic of how sports bring people from all different backgrounds.
The most vivid memory I had of the 2000 Games was being in the holding area before the Opening Ceremonies began, waiting to walk out onto the track. We got to meet the other athletes and what stood out to me were the young ones.
So many of the NBA players on the 2000 team were already stars, so it was exciting to be around many young athletes who were right on the cusp of becoming well known. I remember meeting the boxer Jermain Taylor and the sprinter Maurice Greene that night of the Opening Ceremonies, and how exciting it was to watch them come into their own during those games.
One thing that has often been overlooked — and fortunately this year took center stage — is the physical and mental commitment it takes from all the athletes to fulfill their dream of competing in the Olympics.
Recently stories have surfaced about the physical, financial, and emotional strain that competing at such a high level has had on many athletes.
The most notable of those stories was Simone Biles, and her decision to step down from competition to take care of herself mentally.
I commend Simone and all athletes for recognizing the importance of putting their well-being first, because we often see our sports heroes as superhuman and forget they experience the same stressors as we all do.
I wish it was more acceptable to put our well-being first when I was a professional athlete, but I’m so glad that the conversation about mental health is becoming more and more common today.
Because when you take into account the mental side of athletics — and the mental side of life in general — you end up with healthier athletes and happier people. Sure, you’ll always have times when people push themselves harder than they should, but thanks to Simone and the many other athletes who have stepped forward, it’s becoming okay to say “enough.”
And because of that, it’s becoming more widely realized that the world doesn’t end if you have to sit out or if you’re not able to accomplish your goal because you need to prioritize your wellness. In a very real way, having the courage to prioritize your wellness can be the exact thing that allows your world to continue long into the future.
I was really inspired by Simone’s courage to take a stand for what she needed and to prioritize her own well-being. And I think we’re all really fortunate to have trailblazers like her who make it feel safe and okay for more people — including ourselves — to have the courage to do the same.