Meeting with Simone Thiero, a handball player with a well-kept secret

Meeting with Simone Thiero, a handball player with a well-kept secret

A high-level handball player, Simone Thiero hid her disability in silence for many years. She reveals to us her sporting journey tinged with hope, successes but also disillusionment. Testimony of a woman who no longer hides behind the mask of the “perfect athlete”.

In his book testimony “The image of the perfect athlete”, Simone Thiero, professional handball player reveals she has an invisible handicap that she has hidden throughout her sporting career. For TipsForWomens, she looks back on her journey and highlights the disillusionments of the world of sport.

“I didn’t want anyone to put a label on me.”

During her birth, Simone Thiero suffered a medical accident. She tells : “the doctor pulled my right arm a little too hard and the brachial plexus was torn. According to the hospital, this is not a medical error but something that happens often. Even after having undergone two operations at the age aged seven and eight, the diagnosis is clear: I cannot perform external rotation with my right arm”. In fact, the rotation, normally estimated at 45 degrees, is approximately -5 degrees for his injured arm. The athlete specifies: “To give you an idea, I have difficulty performing certain everyday movements like shaking a hand, combing my hair or putting on my backpack by myself. Putting my arm back or in the air is quite complicated”. Despite this difficulty she started playing handball: “I used almost only my left arm, compensating for everything I couldn’t do with my right. If at first I didn’t see any problem with it, I felt a difference when I started the sessions bodybuilding”.

In her book, the 25-year-old sportswoman reveals that during all these years, she hid her disability: “Everyone knew that I had a problem with my arm, particularly because my running was different and my arm always went up towards my stomach. However, I never talked about a disability and that changed everything. I didn’t want that. they introduce me by saying: this is Simone Thiero, she is disabled. We know very well how things happen in this world”. According to the player, the word “disability” slows things down a lot and her progress could have been called into question quite quickly. “I didn’t want to be labeled, so I decided not to use that word”she confides. “The trainers never asked me what was wrong with me: what was my background? How did I feel? Why couldn’t I do this or that strength training exercise? None of them tried to find out.”. The sportswoman denounces in her work: “There is a big lack of support from the coaches. They were the first to make fun of me, “teasing” me, regularly making comments to me. When I changed clubs, I was afraid that It’s starting again.”. However, a few years later, no one talks about this difference anymore: “I said to myself that bodybuilding had surely helped me. Years later I understand that in reality people were making fun of me behind my back… When I found myself in Division 1 in the South and in Central Europe, it “This is the first time that people from the staff have finally dared to ask me questions”, she confides. Attention which affects the athlete and allows her to carry out exercises adapted to her situation: “During weight training sessions, for example, the coaches often told me, ‘Do as you can’. I wasn’t obliged to do everything like the others. Their mentality was different compared to my former clubs.”.

The young woman admits to having been in denial all these years: “When you’re in the world of sport, you just think about performing well. Now that I’m out of this bubble, I’m opening my eyes to a lot of things that were wrong, both regarding my disability and the conditions of life as an athlete”. Aware of her successful journey, Simone Thiero testifies: “I think that this disadvantage was rather a strength for me, whether when I was in sport studies, in the French Youth team or at a higher level. At each stage, I was very grateful for what it happened to me. While some athletes were looking to win more and more, for my part, I was just happy to participate.”.

“My best years were those before I turned 18”

Simone Thiero has an impressive sporting background. In 2015, she won the title of French champion, a few years later she won the Guadeloupe Cup, joined the Congo national team and joined high-level clubs abroad. She confides: “I have very good memories as well as less good ones. I think my best years were those before I turned eighteen, because I played sport purely for pleasure. As an adult, when you return in the professional world, it’s different. We are paid for our performances so we are considered as products. We absolutely have to be profitable and everything depends on each match. This has had a lot to do with my mental health.”

The young woman also speaks about the lack of stability that athletes experience: “What’s a little difficult is that from one year to another we don’t know where we’ll end up. For my part, I left home very early, I changed clubs many times. times. It becomes a habit but it’s difficult to build something when you don’t know if you will be present next season. Generally people think that top athletes are privileged people, with a good life and a good salary. In reality, the salary is low and there is a severe lack of stability”.

Aware that her career as a high-level sportswoman will not last and that her handicap will not work in her favor, Simone Thiero is pursuing studies in parallel: “when I arrived in the professional world, I quickly understood that I needed a background to be able to bounce back afterwards”, she adds. She thus obtained a BTS in commerce, a license in audiovisual as well as a master’s degree in marketing and communication.

Injuries as a message to stop

In 2018, what she feared happened: “While playing abroad, I broke my left hand and shortly after I had a shoulder problem on the same side. Added to that, by compensating everything on the left side, I “I had a lot of problems: an injury to my left shoulder, compression of the nerves at my elbow and inflammation of my ankle. I saw these injuries as a sign: I physically couldn’t take it anymore. So I stopped my career and returned home to receive intensive care.”

However, the 25-year-old young woman has never made an official statement to announce the end of her career. “I didn’t tell myself that it was final, that’s not the case anyway. I just left“. In five years, many clubs have called her to work. Moreover, in 2023, the handball player went to play two months in Guadeloupe. She reveals: “I am no longer able to do a whole season”. However, she does not hide the fact that stopping sport after so many years is a difficult step to overcome: “When you stop your career it’s complicated because the bubble you were in all this time bursts. Some call this phenomenon “the little death of the athlete”. I think it’s mentally the most delicate moment for a player”.

A book to change mentalities

In January 2024, Simone Thiero publishes a testimonial book “The image of the perfect athlete”in which she talks about her story as well as those of other athletes: “I received a lot of questions about my career, both about sport in general and about disability. I decided to write this book to answer them. In it, I talk, among other things, about my medical accident, my career and the mental health of high-level athletes. I also discuss taboo subjects such as salary and the way in which we are treated in certain clubs. I have also collected the testimony of certain athletes who were not disabled but whose the accumulation of injuries has led them to a handicap situation.”

After the publication of the book, Simone received a lot of feedback, including from handball players who revealed that they had not continued in the professional world because of their disability. The 25-year-old young woman then remembers: “I remember certain girls I met during my youth. I never saw them again at the high level. Their handicap was too visible.”

“For my part, it was above all out of modesty that I did not dare talk about it. Furthermore, I knew that being pregnant or being of an advanced age could slow down a career… I honestly think that I would not have had future in sport if I had revealed my disability. Since we all have injuries in the world of sport, I was playing on it, hoping that people would see me as a simple injured athlete.”.

In this book, the sportswoman wishes to denounce the absence of discipline adapted to invisible disabilities: “When I started, there weren’t any at all. Now, there are adaptations but only for wheelchair or mental disabilities. If there had been an adapted activity, I would have gone but I I didn’t have this chance. In the future, I would like there to be a disabled sports team that takes invisible disabilities into account. Instead of stopping at 25, this would allow people like me to continue until ‘at 35. I know I’m not the only one so I’d like to fight for that.’.