I am in awe of her; Simone Biles. You surely must have heard of her by now; the African American gymnast who has won a combined total of 32 Olympic and World Championship medals by (her current) age of 24. But that’s not really why I am in awe of her, no. Her life story is truly inspiring and that fascinates me.
Simone Biles – photo credit Time
Born Simone Arianne Biles in Columbus Ohio on March 14, 1997, her mother couldn’t afford to look after her and her three other siblings, so they went in and out of foster care for a while until her maternal grandfather got wind of their plight and stepped in to adopt Simone and her younger sister. Her other two siblings were adopted by her maternal grandaunt.
Simone first tried her hands at being a gymnast at age 6 (wow! I was still sucking Milo from a feeding bottle at that age!). Her gymnast career started fully at age 14; she would drop out of public school and opt for homeschooling (the second African American person I have read about who opted for this type of education and are doing awesome for themselves all-round; the other one is Zaila Avant Garde – Scripps National Spelling Bee 2021 Champion and a celebrated sports/basketball player).
Between 2012 and 2016 Simone would compete in various US competitions and global ones, including the Olympics of 2016. In 2017, she took a break from competitions and co-authored her own autobiography, titled Courage to Soar: A Body in Motion, A Life in Balance. Her book hit number one on The New York Times best sellers Young Adult list and was turned into a biopic. In the same year, Simone competed on the very popular TV show, Dancing with the Stars.
I found it very interesting how she took almost a whole year off to pursue other interests outside of her career; this is something I have suggested to many young people who start out in life. It is necessary to take a break from the routines and rigours of your career to pursue (or develop) other interests. This really helps in making one a ‘well-rounded’ person…and all well and good if in the process of taking that break, you find your true calling, what gives you satisfaction beyond words.
Simon Biles would return to her career in 2018 and keep excelling in international (and US) competitions and garnering awards to show for it. In the middle of the Olympics, for which she had trained for five years, Simone put on her warm-up suit, packed her competition bag and told her teammates she wouldn’t be competing with them, but rather cheering them on in the team event.
Biles explained later that she withdrew primarily due to experiencing “the twisties“, a psychological phenomenon causing a gymnast to lose air awareness while performing twisting elements, throughout the Olympics. She made the decision to withdraw after the first rotation of the team final because she felt that she had “simply got so lost [her] safety was at risk as well as a team medal.
Some commentators, particularly among conservative media, criticized Biles, accusing her of being a “quitter” or selfishly depriving another athlete of the chance to compete. She was also slandered with racist, sexist, and transphobic comments. Many gymnasts, however, defended Biles’ decision and relayed their own stories of struggling with the twisties. Biles’ decision to prioritize her mental health was generally widely praised and started a wider conversation about mental health in sports.
On the biggest platform that every athlete works tirelessly to get to, Simon Biles made the boldest, bravest move yet…she stopped. She recognized her limit when she met it and chose not to risk her life or her safety for her sport. She reminded us that winning is not everything, and that it’s ok to stop when it doesn’t feel right.
And for that single move she made, whilst others criticized her for “quitting”, she truly does deserve every inch of the cover on Time magazine’s Athlete of the Year title.
*Parts culled from Time/Wikipedia