She's the greatest gymnast of all time with an unparalleled list of accomplishments and awards and she’s bound to add even more gold to her groaning mantelpiece at this month’s Olympics Games in Tokyo.
American Simone Biles (24) is on top of the world and her star keeps on rising. Last month she smashed the all-around title record at the US National Gymnastics Championships, officially making her the best gymnast of all time.
The diminutive superstar – she’s just 1,42 m tall – was six years old when she was introduced to gymnastics, but she came dangerously close to never knowing the sport at all. Her early childhood, she recently revealed, was marred by neglect and hunger.
“Growing up, me and my siblings [sister Adria and brothers Ashley and Tevin] were so focused on food because we didn’t have a lot of food,” she says.
“I remember there was this cat around the house and I would be so hungry. They would feed this cat and I would be like, ‘Where the heck is my food?’ This frickin’ street cat, [my mother] always fed it. But she never fed us.”
Her mother, whose name Simone hasn’t revealed, was an alcoholic drug addict who lost custody of her children when a neighbour alerted social services and the kids were placed in foster care.
Simone and her younger sister Adria were later adopted by Nellie and Ronald Biles, their maternal grandparents, and her brothers, Ashley and Tevin, were adopted by their father's sister.
“I don't remember a lot about foster care, but I definitely knew that we had been taken from our biological mom and then you just think you're going to go back to her,” she says in a recent episode of her Facebook series, Simone vs Herself.
She was thankful, she says, that she and her siblings got to stay together in foster care, “because a lot of the time you either get regrouped from home to home to home or you and your siblings get split up”.
Simone went to a gymnastics gym for a school field trip when she was six, “and while there I imitated the other gymnasts, and [the coach] noticed. The gym sent home a letter requesting that I join tumbling or gymnastics”.
“Being separated from my biological mom, being placed in foster care before I officially got adopted by my grandparents, it just set me up for a better route at life,” Simone said.
Nellie recalls the difficulties that came with parenting two more children while raising her two sons.
“I knew I had my own barriers because these weren’t my biological children. You do everything that’s nurturing, that’s mothering, but emotionally, you still have to be there 100%,” she said on becoming a mother-of-four overnight.
Nellie admitted that she initially struggled to build a relationship with Simone and Adria.
“I remember praying for that bonding. Because telling them that you love them and you care for them, that’s all words,” she recalled.
“But then you wake up one day, and you realise that you would do anything for these children. And that you would die for these children. And when that feeling comes, that’s when you know you are truly a mother.”
Simone says she wouldn’t be the person she is if she hadn’t had that turning point in her life.
“I would still be Simone Biles, probably not Simone Biles that everybody else knows, the world knows.”
Simone also shared a bit about her boyfriend, American football player Jonathan Owens (25), who she described as “absolutely amazing”.
Simone’s coach Cecile Canqueteau-Landi, says, “When you're happy in your outside life, then you're a lot happier in what you have to do and you can totally see it. She got her house and has a great boyfriend who is very supportive, who is pushing her to be the best she can be as well. I think the whole thing all came together and she feels like, okay I'm not alone I have the support that I need. You can see it, she's different.”
Sources: The Guardian, People, Romper, Facebook