World Champion Gymnast Focuses on Talent, Not Racism

Simone Biles looks past the international taunts to concentrate on training for the 2016 Olympics.

Simone Biles competing during the balance beam event of the women's all-around final at the 44th Artistic Gymnastics World Championships in Antwerp, Belgium, on Oct. 4, 2013.

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For world champion gymnast Simone Biles, her talent has become her job.

“When I’m healthy, I go to the gym from 9 to 6:30 p.m. and train twice, from 9 to 12 and 2:30 to 6:30, so seven hours a day,” Simone tells The Root in an airy, petite voice from Spring, Texas. “I do that every day.”

But it hasn’t been an easy road. The 16-year-old athlete who wowed judges in Belgium during the World 2013 Championships and became a lightning rod for an international racial controversy is not only the first black world all-around champion but also the product of a blended family—one that stepped up when her birth mother wasn’t able.

Born in Columbus, Ohio, Simone is actually the biological grandchild of Ron and Nellie Biles. While battling drug addiction, Ron Biles’ daughter bore eight children, who wound up in the foster-care system. Simone was one of the eight. The Bileses adopted two of the girls, Simone and her younger sister Adria. Two other children live with Ron Biles’ sister, two others were adopted out of the family and the remaining pair are with their birth mother in Ohio.

“She is our daughter; we did a formal adoption in a court where we were sworn in as a family,” Nellie Biles says in a Belizean accent. “The key is to have permanent homes for children. It’s a blessing.”

At age 6 Simone went to Bannon’s Gymnastix, a gymnastics training facility for children in Houston, on a day care field trip, and her flexibility caught the coach’s attention.

“Her talent was evident at a young age; she just knew how to flip,” says coach Aimee Boorman, who, along with Luis Brasesco, trains Simone. “She has always been committed with her time. Through the years it’s just been guiding her to refine her talents, and everything’s come to fruition through her hard work.”

Still, Simone hasn’t tumbled into her success. She spends as much time practicing her moves as most people spend in their cubicles. She recently underwent minor foot surgery for a bone spur and returned to Bannon’s, her home gym, the next day.

Off the mat, she has also learned what racism looks like on an international stage.

“My mom said, ‘People will say things, but you just have to go back and see what you accomplished and be happy for what you did,’” Simone says softly.