Simone Biles Finds New Way to Be Heroic by Opening Up About ADHD

Russian hackers leaked confidential files on American Olympic athletes yesterday, disclosing private information about Venus and Serena Williams and Simone Biles, the teenage gymnast who won four gold medals at the Rio Olympics last month, a move that quickly drew protest from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). While some see it as revenge for a number of Russian athletes being disqualified from the Games for testing positive for illegal substances, the Kremlin was quick to deny they had any part in it.

The drugs in the the documents were prescriptions used to treat minor injuries and allergies, all cleared for using during the Olympics. But one (which we will not identify here for privacy reasons) that appeared next to Biles’ name did provoke the gymnast into a response, as Biles decided to publicly disclose that the medication she was cleared by WADA to take was for her attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). 

Even though Biles takes a prescription that was given the clearance, she was under no pressure to respond. The fact that she did, however, and the way she chose to frame it was the kind of act you expect out of athletes we hold up to heroic standards. While millions of children and adults deal with ADHD, it is still a misunderstood and often ridiculed disorder. And what’s more, as Rae Jacobson pointed out in an article for The Cut in 2015, “If you’re female, the conversation is even more fraught. For decades ADHD was seen as a young boy’s disorder. New evidence suggests that it likely affects males and females equally, but that girls are far less likely to be diagnosed. For years the diagnosis ratio of males to females was 10:1. These days we’re looking at a slightly brighter 3:1.”

Biles, already a hero to many thanks to her dominating performance at the Summer Olympics, showed the kind of grace you’d expect out of a gymnast. But this time it wasn’t on the high beam – it was by opening up and being honest.

“Having ADHD, and taking medicine for it is nothing to be ashamed of, nothing that I’m afraid to let people know,” she wrote on Twitter.