You are here

Modern Life: Raising an Olympic Gymnast

Nathan Lindstrom

Her gravity-defying skills aside, Simone Biles is in many ways just your typical teen. Her favorite music is from Bieber and Swift; she loves pizza, getting her nails done, Pretty Little Liars and hanging out with her sister Adria and brothers Adam and Ronald, but this young woman also happens to be a three-time world champion gymnast, considered one of the finest athletes in the country and an Olympic favorite.

"The moment you realize you've won and you're the world champion gymnast is hard to describe. It normally takes days to sink in," shares Simone. "I wish I could have an out-of-body experience to see it happening to me—that would be awesome!"

While we can't predict the outcome of her performance, we know that Simone will land on her feet. This is in great part thanks to her fighting spirit and her grandparents Nellie and Ron. They stepped in and adopted Simone and Adria when the girls' mother, battling drug addiction, was unable to raise them. Simone refers to Ron and Nellie as her parents, and they have always believed in her.

When Simone was just 6, her school group visited a gymnastics class. She was fascinated and started copying their moves. One of the coaches saw something in the little girl and sent a letter home asking if she could join. She started taking classes and an Olympic hopeful was born. "I've never tried another sport," says Simone. "Gymnastics is it, and I fell in love from the very first day. Competing is just a blast, and honestly,I never wake up not wanting to train."

To get to where she is today, the 4-foot 8-inch dynamo trains about 32 hours a week and sticks to a regimented diet high in protein and vegetables and low in carbs. In her downtime, which is half a day Saturday and Sunday, she likes to get her hair done and maybe "cheat" with a little ice cream. Sundays are all about spending time with her family; they go to church and then have a big dinner all together, says Simone.

What's it like raising a champion? Nellie, a native of Belize, does it with a loving but firm hand. "In the house Simone is no different from her siblings. She has chores assigned to her. She is expected to do her share. We are proud of her accomplishments; she worked very hard to achieve her goals, but there are rules in the house that everyone has to follow. I tend to be a little strict, but I try to give reasons for saying no. Religion is also very important to our family and there is no deviation from that."

Nellie, whom Simone calls the "biggest inspiration in my life," and Ron are there to keep their daughter calm, grounded and focused on her goals. "We just want Simone to believe she is doing her best. That's all we ask for, nothing more. And if her best means getting the gold or coming in fourth or fifth, as long as that's her best we'll be proud of her."

Simone, whose drive comes from a love of her sport and a fierce desire to perfect her skills, can't wait to get out there and compete. "My own mental and physical strength blows me away on a daily basis; I accomplish what I never thought I was capable of. In the moment I'm like, 'All right, just keep going—do your routine and move on to the next event.' But then I'll watch what I did on video afterward and say, 'Wow, that was me.' It's really cool." We'd have to agree with Simone—it is really cool.

Where does your drive and ambition come from?

It comes from loving the sport and wanting to perfect my skills. My greatest ambition has been to compete at the Olympics, and that dream is coming true.

Who is your biggest inspiration?

In life, it's my mother. In my sport, it's the girls who competed at the 2008 Olympics [Shawn, Nastia and Alicia]. I was fascinated by their gymnastics and the way they represented Team USA.

What does a cheat day consist of?

Bundt cake, brownies, cookies or ice cream!

Who would you most like to meet?

Zac Efron.

Finish this sentence: If I weren't a gymnast, I would probably be...

A dancer.

What is your strategy for bringing home the gold in Rio?

I am training hard and looking forward to competing in the Olympics—no different from any other competition.