By Dana Hall
How A Stable Home Led To Success
At nineteen years old, it is safe to say that Simone Biles has accomplished a lot in her life. She has so many medals and championship titles to her name, it’s getting hard to keep track. She is the reigning US national all-around champion in gymnastics four years in a row. She has been regarded as the best gymnast of all time, a title she had earned even before setting foot in Rio de Janeiro for her first Olympic games, where she took home four gold medals and one bronze.
Taking gymnastics by storm, Biles is so good at what she does, she seems untouchable. “All the girls are like, ‘Simone’s just in her own league. Whoever gets second, that’s the winner,’” says fellow team USA gymnast, Aly Raisman , when describing what it is like to compete against Biles.
But for us, the story behind the story is what’s most interesting.
Biles was born in Columbus, Ohio, and spent her earliest years in and out of foster care. Her mother, Shanon Biles, struggled with drug addiction and was unable to provide steady care for her four children. Biles’s father had always been absent.
By the time Biles turned three, Shanon’s troubles were only increasing and Biles’s grandparents, Ron and Nellie, intervened. They relocated Biles and her sister Adria to live with them in Spring, Texas, while her two older siblings were sent to live with Ron’s sister and husband.
In 2003, Ron and Nellie formally adopted Biles and Adria. It would be years before Biles had contact with her birth mother again. Ron had asked Shanon that she not visit and to cease all communication with the children.
Fueled first by anger, Shanon soon came around to the idea when she realized it would allow Biles and Adria to lead a stable life and give her opportunity to confront her struggles.
With a newly stable family and home, it was here that Biles would have begun the normal, wholesome upbringing that many children and teenagers experience. If she hadn’t discovered gymnastics, perhaps this normalcy could have been achieved. Maybe a run-of-the-mill childhood would have suited Biles just fine. We’ll never know.
Biles discovered her sport on a fieldtrip to Bannon’s Gymnastix when she was six. For reasons unknown, aside from her self-described “rambunctious” nature, Biles began imitating the gymnasts practicing around her and did such a good job, she caught the attention of a coach. Biles was sent home with a letter from Bannon’s, encouraging her parents to enroll her in gymnastics or tumbling classes.
Excelling far past what would have been considered average for a beginner of her age, gymnastics quickly became the commitment that would drive every aspect of Biles’s life.
She began her career in 2011, placing third overall at the American Classic in Houston. Shortly after, she opted to drop out of school and pursue homeschooling to accommodate her training. The switch allowed Biles to increase her time at the gym from 20 hours per week to 32, accelerating her training overnight.
Still a child in nearly every regard, Biles had committed herself to a regimen equivalent to that of a fulltime job. The strategy paid off: Biles ranking increased exponentially as she competed through 2012, and by the end of 2013, she had won her first world all-around title.
Biles story is one that gets people thinking. What if she hadn’t been adopted? What if she’d continued cycling through a revolving door of foster families? What if she hadn’t started imitating those gymnasts on that fateful day at Bannon’s?
Six years after Ron and Nellie adopted Biles in 2003, Shanon was able to overcome her addictions and resumed contact with her children. Today, Shanon and Biles maintain a steady, but distant relationship, calling each other a few times a year and planning visits now and again.
The obstacles of Biles’s early life forced her to mature more quickly than most, but with two loving parents and an ever-growing relationship with her birth mother, Biles is proving that her victories go beyond floor routines and balance beams.
It is hard to say what the future would have looked like for Simone Biles, but the one thing that can be said with certainty is that none of her overwhelming success could have been achieved without the determination and dedication that drove her to become the athlete she is. The discipline and dedication required to hone her ability are traits that come from within.
No one knows the motto “fall down seven times, rise up eight,” better than a gymnast. In a sport that equates falling with learning, gymnasts fall more in a single practice than many of us do in a year. For Biles, each fall is a new burst of motivation. Fueled by determination and a stubborn refusal to lose focus, Biles has risen to the top of her game.
She has been compared to many of the greatest athletes of all time, but her thoughts on the comparisons remain abundantly clear, telling journalists: “I’m not the next Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps. I’m the first Simone Biles.”