In the latest episode of Peace of Mind with Taraji, Olympic gymnast Jordan Chiles opened up about experiencing verbal abuse by one of her past coaches and shared how she worked through that trauma.
Inspired by the courageous stances taken by athletes such as Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles to prioritize their mental health, this week’s episode made strides to further unpack the dynamics at play when it comes to the mental health of athletes.
“She called me fat, [that] I looked like a donut,” Chiles said of the type of verbal abuse and body-shaming she received by a past coach. Explaining how it affected her eating habits, she noted, “The littlest things that people would ask me like ‘Oh you’re eating this today?’ — and its like well I’m not eating because you just triggered my brain.”
“And it was really, really hard on me because I was just like this is ridiculous. Like what have I put myself through,” she explained. “But I was also enjoying it [gymnastics] at the same time so it was like half my brain was telling me one thing and the other half was telling me another.”
“It took a huge toll on mental health for me,” Chiles said candidly. “I didn’t know who I was. I was trying to be other people that I wasn’t.”
Earlier in the episode, the now 20-year old gymnast mentioned that “the pressure” placed on her within the sport didn’t begin until she was 15 or 16 years old and started competing at a more elite level.
“It’s all about the expectation,” Chiles said. “Just because we show the four minutes of us [competing] to you — and they expect us to go on Twitter and tweet this, to go on Instagram and show this photo, to do this, that or the other — but they don’t understand what we go through to lead up to this moment that we just did because gymnastics is a 24/7 sport.”
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“You don’t have time for vacations like everybody else. You don’t have time to go to proms and homecomings. They don’t know what happens in our family,” Chiles added, highlighting the realities of being a professional athlete. “They don’t know all the other logistics of things that go on in our life. And it sucks. It really does suck because behind the scenes is totally different than what we’re showing.”
“It’s really hard to deal with injuries — you’re just not able to go without getting injured,” the gymnast said. Giving other examples of what she’s faced, Chiles noted that “There’s a lot of mental health and physical health that comes into being a gymnast and it takes a toll on you body.”
The gymnast said she thought about quitting the sport at one point due to all the pressure. Notably, going to a sports psychologist was really able to help her be vulnerable and “speak out” regarding the traumas she’s faced during training that she’d never been open about before.
“She helped me through everything, literally everything. And I wish I would’ve done that when I was younger,” Chiles said.
She also discussed how her mental health was affected when she stepped in for Team USA teammate, Biles, during the Tokyo Olympics this year. Later on in the episode, Taraji and Tracie chatted with former NFL player, Bruce Davis Jr., who talked about his “struggles with depression and alcohol as a result of his time in the NFL.” Moreover, sports psychologist Dr. Ross Flowers gave additional insight into “the extreme pressures” placed on some of the world’s most recognizable athletes and how that intense spotlight affects their mental health.
If you’re interested, watch the full episode via Facebook Watch here.