The stunning transformation of Simone Biles

Simone Biles isn’t your average athlete. In fact, she’s far from average. Standing at four feet, eight inches, the gymnastics superstar has been tearing up the gym floor since she was about 6 years old. Starting at a young age, Biles’ incredible strength, skill, and unbeatable attitude have made her a staple in the gymnastics circuit. From national championships to the world stage, she’s become one of the most decorated American gymnasts in the sport’s history.

But there’s a lot more to this flexible prodigy than her gymnastic abilities. Her childhood was different than most, leading her to find a passion in gymnastics through which she could become her best self and harness her natural talents. And, considering her past accomplishments, she is sure to go far in the gymnastics world. Let’s take a look at how Simone Biles has transformed from a tiny, acrobatic wonder to gymnastics’ next big thing.

Being adopted by her grandparents

When Biles was just a toddler, she was faced with a significant lifestyle change. Both she and her siblings were taken away from their biological mother, who was suffering from drug and alcohol abuse. At the time of this writing, Biles lives with her grandparents, whom she considers her true parents. “My parents are my parents and that’s it,” Biles told Us Weekly.

As reported by Us Weekly, sports announcer Al Trautwig insensitively referred to Biles’ unique situation during a 2016 Olympic broadcast. During the broadcast, he stated that the gymnast was brought up by her grandfather and his wife, whom she calls her parents. He later reaffirmed his statement in a tweet, writing, “They may be mom and dad but they are NOT her parents.” USA Today later reported that Trautwig apologized in a statement released by NBC Sports and recognized Ron and Nellie Biles as the athlete’s parents, in accordance with her wishes.

Going in and out of foster homes

Simone Biles didn’t live with her grandparents right away — for three years, she and her siblings were in and out of foster homes. She wrote in a CNN commentary, “My birth mother suffered from drug addiction, and when I was just three years old, my siblings and I were removed from her custody. From there, we bounced around until I was six and my grandparents made the brave move to adopt us.”

Biles wrote on the importance of investing in the future of foster children. “Although I was young when my foster care ordeal began, I remember how it felt to be passed off and over-looked. Like nobody knew me or wanted to know me. Like my talents didn’t count, and my voice didn’t matter.” But when Biles found her new family, as well as her passion for gymnastics, she describes finally feeling a purpose, a feeling she believes that all foster children should be given the opportunity to experience.

Discovering gymnastics

According to a 2016 Us Weekly interview, Simone Biles’ career in gymnastics began during a fateful daycare field trip to a gym. The daycare was originally supposed to visit a farm, but rain rerouted the group to a nearby gymnastics facility for the day. “My first experience with gymnastics was when I was in daycare. We took a field trip to a gym and I was hooked,” said Biles. Her mother, Nellie, described her immediate ability to copy the moves of older girls, and with wild precision, to Sports Illustrated Kids.

“At a very young age, Simone had endless energy from the time she woke up to when she would go to bed,” Nellie told the magazine. Biles’ mom shared that her daughter was always pushing herself to achieve more, even when playing with her siblings. In a 2016 interview with NBC Sports Boston, the gymnast said, “I remember my brother would flip off the swing and try to show me and then I would try to copy him … then I started flipping off mailboxes…”

Making some life changes

Simone Biles started out training 16 hours per week at Bannon’s Gymnastix, but eventually, that wasn’t enough time in the gym for the young athlete. At age thirteen, Biles made the decision to begin homeschooling in order to fit more training hours into the day. But it wasn’t an easy choice to make — it came after she performed in the 2011 Visa Championships. Unfortunately, Biles didn’t make the national team … by just one spot (via Sports Illustrated Kids). It was after this championship event that Simone’s mother suggested the teen gymnast put even more hours in the gym.

“I was just so lonely all the time,” Biles said of her first few months of homeschooling (via The Undefeated). “I missed, like, all my friends at school and stuff. But I mean, in the end, it worked out … I decided that I wanted to be better. I didn’t just want to throw my skills, I wanted them to look good.”

Dealing with body shaming

It turns out that even one of the best athletes in the world has to face body shaming. After a 2013 gymnastics meet, Simone Biles overheard a coach say her alleged poor performance was due to her weight. In a 2016 CSN Philly article, Biles shared, “It was very sad because I feel like I’m a very petite young girl and so hear that at such a very young age, it just kind of shocked me.”

According to a New Yorker article, the fact that Biles isn’t incredibly strict with her diet has contributed to her success. Her coach, Aimee Boorman, told the New Yorker, “[Simone] knows that if she doesn’t eat well she doesn’t feel good.” According to The New Yorker, Biles’ healthy figure is considered a result of her flexible diet, as she hasn’t had any major injuries so far.  

When speaking with CSN Philly, Biles had a message for those struggling with body image. “I would say everyone was built with a body and they’re blessed … so you have to be confident in whatever God gave you because that’s you and you have to learn to love yourself.”

Seeking therapy

In 2013, Simone Biles finally earned a spot on the senior national team. Yet, after making the team, she began to falter during meets, even giving up at one event by not trying to do her vault.

“She was competing against these girls who were her heroes, her idols… it was hard for her to adjust to that,” Nellie Biles told Glamour. “Simone didn’t think she was good enough to compete with them. I knew she was quite capable. But she needed to believe it.” It was that summer that the gymnast started seeing sports psychologist Robert Andrews in order to build up her confidence once more.

“When [Mr. Biles] called, Simone was having a really hard time, so I had no idea where she was going to go,” Robert Andrews told ESPN in 2016. “She said a gymnast on the men’s team told her only crazy people go to see me.” Once Andrews listed off the number of accomplished athletes that he had worked with, Biles perked up. Through her sessions with Andrews, Biles was able to regain the confidence she would need to become the senior women’s all-around champion in 2013’s P&G Gymnastics Championships.

Becoming Sportswoman of the Year

After achieving success at the 2013 USA Gymnastics National Championships, Simone Biles continued to propel into gymnastics super-stardom. In 2014, she was crowned Sportswoman of the Year, along with famed ice dancer Meryl Davis, at the Women’s Sports Foundation’s Annual Salute to Women in Sports (via Her Sportswoman crowning came just a week after competing in the 2014 World Artistic Gymnastic Championships, where the pint-sized athlete won an impressive four gold medals.

Before winning Sportswoman of the Year, Simone Biles spoke to journalist Amy Rosewater about the possibility of earning the title (via “I’m a newbie this year… and I think that it would be really exciting and it would be a really fun thing to [win],” she said. With past winners like gymnast prodigy Gabby Douglas, tennis star Serena Williams, and swimmer Missy Franklin, Biles was destined to continue achieving success.

Winning big at the 2016 Olympics

Simone Biles came to the 2016 Rio Olympics with the high expectations of millions on her shoulders, and she did not disappoint. Biles walked away from Rio with five medals, four of which were gold (including the women’s all-around), instantly making her one of the most talented and famous individuals in the world.  

According to the Olympic Games website, Biles won the all-around title by 2.100 points over fellow teammate Aly Raisman. “Every emotion hit me at once so I was just kind of a train wreck,” said Biles. “Everything was going through my head but mainly it was like I had finally done it and when that hits you, you can’t really stop the emotions.”

Biles’ win made her the fourth American in a row to win the all-around title, which, according to the site, gave the United States the longest winning streak ever of any country in the all-around event.

Back to work

At 21 years old, Simone Biles walked away from the 2018 U.S. Gymnastics Championships having won all five gold medals, including the women’s all-around. Her results at this championship made her the first-ever female athlete to win five all-around titles, as well as the first woman to win all five gold medals since 1994.

“I didn’t think coming into the events this year that I would do as well as I did,” Biles told journalist John Powers. “I knew I was capable of it, but I kept telling my family, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to calm myself down the way I did before and handle the nerves. But so far, so good.”

At first, Biles’ participation in the 2020 Olympic games was uncertain — she had taken a whole year off in order to travel and enjoy her Olympic triumph. But with this fantastic feat under her belt, Biles is now preparing for her Olympic comeback. Catch her on the flip side in 2020.

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