GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A Grand Rapids gymnast who chased her dreams all the way to the 1996 Olympic trials is reflecting on her time in the spotlight and weighing in on where mental health fits into the sport.
Katie Teft-Minasola was 14 years old when she landed a spot as an alternate on the 1996 U.S. Olympic team.
Setting her sights high early on, Minasola was competing as an elite gymnast by the age 12, loving every minute of it.
“That’s what I love about gymnastics, the spotlight and competing,” Minasola said. “Don’t get me wrong, the nerves were there because it was the Olympic trials.”
In the 25 years since, Minasola has gone from competitor to coach, becoming the head women’s gymnastics coach at Eastern Michigan University in 2017.
Watching this year’s Olympic Games from a world away, Minasola applauded gymnastics Simone Biles for having the courage to withdraw from the competition to focus on her mental health.
“I think it’s great she took that opportunity to focus on herself and stayed there for her team,” she said.
Minasola added that gymnastics is a mental game.
“Especially at the Olympic level … if you’re not in the right frame of mind, you could injure yourself pretty badly,” she said. “You want to focus on your safety first.”
When it came to the high-pressure moments during her career as an elite gymnast, Minasola relied on the support of family, friends and even sports psychologists to help get her through.
“I saw a lot of sports psychologists through my years at that higher level and took my time making sure I was focused on me as a person,” she said. “My mom was really good about that too.”
No matter how Biles finishes out her time in Tokeyo, Minasola says the greatest-of-all-time gymnast continues to inspire athletes around the world, showing them mental health matters.
“Take it and make it a learning experience for (my team), so they know it happens to the best of the best and it’s OK to have an off day and focus on yourself,” she said.