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“A happy athlete is a successful athlete”: Ysaora Thibus on mental health

After the disappointment at the Tokyo Olympics, the event of a lifetime left only with team silver, YSaora Thibus struggled to find a balance as a woman and an athlete. In 2022, the French woman becomes the world champion in foil: a symbolic victory in more ways than one. This is the first time that a French fencer has reached the top step of the podium since 1971. But above all, it is a symbol of resilience for an athlete who advocates for better mental health care in sports.high level.

Ysaora Thibus, champion against the tide

“I discovered fencing at the age of seven. My mother registered my brother there. Finally I got hooked! “, she says. “Until then, I was involved in classical dance, I started at the age of four. Later, I rediscovered that perfectionist side and that search for aesthetics in fencing. The trouble and fun in this sport immediately appealed to me.” Ysaora trains at the Cercle des Escrimeurs de Pointe-à-Pitre. “When I finished school I went to the club because I liked being there. It was like a second family.” A passion that grew stronger when she entered the Sport-Études class, without necessarily thinking about a career in sports. “I didn’t take fencing seriously. My family always supported me, but I never thought it would come to this. I didn’t really even dream of going to the Olympics.” , reveals.

At the age of 17, she left her native island. She joined the Espoirs center in Aix-en-Provence, before joining INSEP, “the home of French Olympic sport”, in the Paris region, a year later. Ysaora knows the economic model of her precarious discipline and continues to study in parallel with her sports career. Off the track, she earned a master’s degree in management from La Sorbonne. She participated in her first Olympic Games at the age of 20. She returned from London with one goal: “to qualify for Rio 2016 and bring home a medal.” After the fifth place in Brazil, the athlete is disappointed. In 2017, she left Paris and broke free from the framework proposed by her alliance. “I was told that I could not leave INSEP, that I would not succeed. They also told me, ‘You can’t play sports and go to Fashion Week,'” he recalls. By multiplying hats, Ysaora becomes the head of her own business. “I had to create a system in complete autonomy, with my own system, my own coaches, my own schedule. Today I am happy that I made these choices, against the grain, that I listened to myself first.”

ImportantShegiving voice to female athletes

Far from being confined to the bubble of an athlete, Ysaora gets involved, dares to veer off the beaten track and uses her voice for causes dear to her heart. Her Essenti platformShe, created in 2020, reflects this: a project as important as its name suggests, highlights female athletes who are underrepresented in the traditional media space. “EssentialShe it comes directly from my experience as a high-level athlete. I have had the opportunity to meet many women during my career and I wanted to highlight them. I wanted to regain control over our narratives and talk about aspects of women’s sports that are little talked about: motherhood, pregnancy, the relationship with the body…”, she tells us.

She chatted with seven-time Olympic superstar Allyson Felix about failing in a high-profile career, then told the stories of Rouguy Diallo, Romane Dick and even Marie Patouillet. “Today it took on another dimension. We hold events to bring women together, to create a community around women’s sports,” enthuses the fencer. With one motto: represent athletes in their multiplicity, in their ups and downs. ” It is true that things are changing a lot today. The 2024 Paris Games will be the first equal games, but we still have a way to go. When you want to become a professional, make your dreams come true, do you have the same resources as men? We need to improve the ecosystem around women’s sports, economically and medially, and the appreciation of female athletes in society.”

Finding balance as a woman and an athlete

The foil fencer dreamed of winning an individual medal in Tokyo. But the Covid-19 epidemic disrupts his plans and disrupts his everyday life. She won the silver medal in team foil. A reward that does not compensate for the immense disappointment of going through an individual ordeal. Eliminated in the second round, she went through a period of self-examination and depression. “I felt like I didn’t achieve my career goal: I didn’t get a medal and that really affected me.”

This event is pushing her to use her voice and platform to speak out about mental health. “I had the impression that this is not the first time I have felt this way and that there was not necessarily any consideration mental health of athletes. I was at a stage where I either won and was happy, or I lost and it was the end of the world,” says Ysaora. “Athletes are under a lot of pressure and competition, where they always have to prove results tirelessly. We are presented as infallible people.” The help of his psychologist, Meriem Selma, was essential in this ordeal. “Over time, I realized that I am more than an athlete, more than my results. Speaking of mental health he helped me a lot too.” Finding the right balance took time, but Ysaora is now thriving beyond the bottom line, through the many projects she runs and her passions like fashion and art. “Today Iit leaves a lot more space for the woman and I listen to myself a lot. My self-esteem is separate from my status as an athlete. I will always remember my first meeting with my psychologist, she told me: “A happy athlete is a successful athlete”, and this is something that always follows me.”

His title foil world champion it represents all this journey and this resilience. “This medal symbolizes the fact that it was difficult, that I wanted to stop fencing, but that I managed to come back after Tokyo. It means I did the right thing by listening to myself.”

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