Standing with Simone: Local gym puts mental health ahead of the win

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CHENANGO BRIDGE – As eager young gymnasts gather at Chenango Gymnastics for their summer classes and camps, they know one thing for sure: their mental health matters and they are safe.

Days after Simone Biles took herself out of Olympic competition to prioritize her mental health, these teenagers and their coaches are looking at the situation as a positive thing.

For 16 year-old Maggie Fitzgerald, getting out of her head is not easy. Fitzgerald is a perfectionist with every twist and turn.

“I’m very mental and it takes a long time to get over when you’re struggling, it’s a hard thing to overcome, that’s one thing I like about the sport is you the opportunity to face your fears and to do better.”

Fitzgerald and her teammate, Erika Nerzak, were surprised and sad to see Biles pull out. But, like Fitzgerald, Nerzak says she thinks she understands how Biles may feel.

“Throwing yourself in the air and you know, hoping that your body does what you want it to do, is a big thing and I just trust myself and it’s hard,” says Nerzak.

Both girls work closely with their coach, Danielle Goosely, who just wants to see her girls do and feel their best.

Goosely’s mother, Jean Sabol, owns the gym. She says she wanted a place to train kids to feel good about themselves and the sport.

“Our motto is come grow with us, and that’s both physically, mentally,” says Goosely.

Sabol and Goosely agree with Bile’s choice, though they were both shocked.

“The skills Simone’s doing are the highest level skills I think we’ve ever seen in gymnastics, so if you’re even just a little off, that makes it very hard to do them right,” adds Goosely.

“The skills Simone’s doing are the highest level skills I think we’ve ever seen in gymnastics, so if you’re even just a little off, that makes it very hard to do them right,” adds Goosely.

Across the gym from where the girls are training, Goosely’s son, Justin, coaches the men.

“Everyone becomes gymnastics experts overnight because of something they see on TV,” says Justin.

“It’s a mental strain on us and it’s a physical strain on us. So it’s super important that we give them grace.”

Dr. Francis Battisti is a psychotherapist, who sees this issue in non-athletes.

Battisti says that pushing past your limits is not productive or wise.

“When someone says ‘My mental health is in jeopardy and I need to be taking care of my mental health, they are a strong individual,” he says.

Battisti adds that if you’re feeling overwhelmed, try taking a short walk, stretching or talk to someone.

“You don’t have to be at the end of your rope to say I need more rope.”

And, maybe the most important thing, is not to pass judgement on someone you don’t know.

At the end of the day, it’s about being safe and knowing you are enough, which the gymnasts over at Chenango Gymnastics, seem to know for sure.

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