Olympic Champion Simone Biles Refuses to be Stigmatized by ADHD

simone-biles-w-gold-medalSimone Biles has won a total of nineteen Olympic and World Championship medals and is now the most decorated American gymnast. She had many challenges to overcome. First was her early childhood.  She and her three siblings were put into foster care after her father abandoned the family and her mother was unable to care for the children due to her drug addiction. She was raised by her grandfather and his second wife. Her secondary education was done through homeschooling.  Simone was first exposed to gymastics at the age of 6 and encouraged to continue with the sport. She began her gymnastics career at the age of 14, which progressed to her stunning success in the 2016 World Olympics.

Following her performance in Rio de Janeiro, Russian hackers circulated confidential medical records stolen from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) database that showed her use of methylphenidate (sold under the trade names Ritain and Adderal), a stimulant used to treat ADHD. WADA requires that ADHD be diagnosed by experienced clinicians and that methylphenidate be prescribed as a medical best practice treatment. It was disclosed that Biles followed WADA’s requirement to file for a therapeutic use exemption, which allows an athlete with a medical diagnosis to use a prohibited drug. The exemption was granted. She addressed the situation on Twitter writing,

“I have ADHD and I have taken medicine for it since I was a kid. Please know, I believe in clean sport, have always followed the rules, and will continue to do so as fair play is critical to sport and is very important to me.”

She is one among many successful athletes with ADHD, for example Olympic gold medalists shot put thrower Michelle Carter and swimming legend Michael Phelps. Increasingly, scientific research and extensive anecdotal evidence based suggest that there are many strengths linked to ADHD which can lead to success in multiple areas of life. These include an ability to multitask, a propensity to thrive in situations of chaos, creativity, non-linear thinking, an adventurous spirit, resilience, high energy, risk taking, remaining calm under pressure, and the capacity for hyper focus in something that strongly interests you. Many young men and women with ADHD may turn to athletics as they struggle in school. They are willing to put in hours of training because it relieves them from the pain of sitting at a desk and studying. It’s something they’re good at, and it’s fun, which in turn helps build a level of confidence they may not find in academics.

Biles refusal to let the Russian hackers stigmatize her and diminish her accomplishments was perhaps her finest moment at the Games.  As Aimee Crawford of ESPN noted: “The hackers may have tried to seize on outdated stigmas and misperceptions, but they didn’t succeed in overshadowing an Olympian’s proud moment. The response from Biles was clear: ADHD is not shameful, and taking medication to help manage its symptoms is not cheating. She is a world-class athlete who simply happens to have ADHD.”

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