My daughter and I were recently snuggled up in my bed watching gymnastics on my little phone screen. Although it was streaming from a tiny screen, you would have thought my daughter was right in the competition. The way she leaned in and marveled at the gymnasts flying through the air. There is something so special about sharing things your children love.
Her little hands clutched around her favorite blanket as her eyes grew wide with every vault, every floor routine, and every flip. She cheered with the crowd and gasped in amazement. Here I am watching the most elite athletes in the world and I’m caught up in this moment of my daughter being inspired. She then jumped off the bed and started doing cartwheels in her pajamas. Her little heart was completely invested in the outcome of this competition and the well-being of these female athletes.
Then entered Simone Biles, who seemed to radiate excellence from the inside out. She dazzled just as bright as her glitter-laden leotard. My daughter and I both held our breaths as we watched her fly across the little screen. We were filled with amazement as we watched her once again make history in the world of gymnastics. Thank goodness for the replays in slow motion, because my little girl wanted to watch Simone over and over again.
As we watched Simone breaking records one tumble flip or jump at a time, my daughter looked at me and asked in her cartoon voice, “Mom can I do that?”
My daughter was adopted from foster care and has overcome so much in her short life. She is constantly moving, running, and jumping. She has the energy of a bunny that drank a pot of coffee. She likes to jump off furniture and dance with our cat. I smiled as I explained that if she worked hard and believed in her dreams, she could do anything she wanted. She could break records and she could be just like Simone.
She clapped and stood on the bed and cheered, her little fists raised in the air. Then I told my daughter that Simone Biles was adopted. Immediately—a smile and her face lit up as she yelled, “Just like me mom! I’m adopted too!”
We celebrate adoption in our home. It is nothing to be hidden or ashamed of. I believe that my daughter can do anything, but having a role model like Simone Biles to look up to is inspiring. When she sees someone like her, someone who was adopted, at the Olympics, she can see herself there as well.
Simone Biles is well-known throughout the entire world for her athletic ability. A quick Google search and you can find the most intricate details about her life. According to her Wikipedia page, at the young age of 24, she has already won 30 Olympic and world champion medals, including the most world gold medals. She is the first woman in the U.S.A. to win a world medal for all events she competed in. All her success and medals are a reflection of hard work and the ability to overcome obstacles that started even in her young life.
Simone Biles was adopted after a difficult period in her life, but she never let her setbacks early stop her from chasing her dreams. In her Autobiography “Courage to Soar,” Biles speaks of her mother’s inability to care for Simone and her siblings. She spent her early years in and out of foster care before being adopted by her grandparents who have supported her through all her endeavors and she considers them mom and dad.
Simone opened up in an interview by Clevver News. She talked about her time in foster care and that she sometimes had food insecurities. She remembered watching a cat getting fed and herself going hungry. She then went on to say, “being separated from my biological mom, being placed in foster care before I got officially adopted by my grandparents, it just set me up for a better route at life.” She had to overcome hardships and it made her the fighter that would someday bring her to greatness.
Simone goes on in her biography to explain her time living with a foster family. They were kind and took good care of Simone and her three siblings. She remembered that they had a trampoline, but it was against foster care rules to have kids jump on it. She longed to fly and be free. As a child with an uncertain future, that trampoline must have meant so much and the fact that she couldn’t participate like the biological children from the family she was living with must have felt alienating and disappointing.
Simone’s life was going to change rapidly, but she had no idea. Her grandfather was working hard to gain custody of the four children. They were his daughter’s children so he wanted to care for them. It was complicated because he lived in a different state but he made it happen and when Simone arrived at her grandparent’s house, one of the first things she noticed was a big trampoline in the backyard. This time she was able to flip and jump and fly and feel free. It was on that trampoline where her gymnastic career started, though she would not realize that until much later.
Sadly, Simone’s mother was never able to get her life into a place to be able to raise her children. Simone and her sister wanted to be adopted by their grandparents, but her older brother and sister wanted to stay close to their mother and went to live with an aunt. Simone states in her book that she isn’t mad at her mother, but she wishes that the woman who gave her life would not have made such choices and had such a hard time. Still, she never blamed the woman who gave birth to her.
From the point that her grandparents adopted Simone and her sister, she referred to them as mom and dad. She was no longer staying or living with her grandparents, she was home with her forever family.
Now we celebrate Simone and recognize her for her hard work and athletic achievements and she is inspiring my little girl through her story. My daughter also spent time in foster care before her adoption. In our family, we are very open about her adoption and the mother who gave birth to her. That night, I explained Simone Biles was also adopted, I saw a light in my daughter’s eyes that immediately connected her to this stranger who was twenty years her senior. They shared something maybe only adoptees can understand.
But Simone’s story goes on from her humble beginnings. She is called the “GOAT” or “greatest of all time,” but even she credits her success to the love and support of her family. Her older brother was a big part of her becoming a gymnast. He was the one that suggested they visit a gym for a field trip when it was too rainy to visit a farm.
At the age of 6 when her class visited a gymnasium, Simone was instantly in love with gymnastics. Although she started later than most of her competitors, she was a natural and at the age of 8 began working with a personal coach. It didn’t take long before she began competing. She won her first pre-elite place on vault and balance beam and third overall at the young age of 14. She then moved on to compete all across the world winning multiple medals. Her mother and father and the whole family were cheering for her all along the way.
She moved through the levels of junior gymnasts quickly and practically lived in the gym. She was a natural and loved the sport but she was so talented she had to make a choice to go to normal school and live normal adolescence or pursue an elite career in gymnastics. She gave up high school and later postponed college to pursue the Olympics. We all know now that after she dominated national and world competitions and become the most decorated female gymnast, she would then take the USA team to victory in the 2016 Olympics. But, when she made the choice to live a different life than her peers, there were no guarantees she would be great—much less the greatest of all time.
Simone’s sacrifices and ability to overcome hardships in her early life, as well as her dedication to training is why she is a great role model for young girls. She was also able to stand up against racism and cruel words from those who wished to see her fail. In an interview with XM radio, Simone opened up about her body image. In the 2013 US classics meet, Simone had fallen and had a poor performance. She was approached by another coach who mentioned she would have done better if she wasn’t “fat.” Simone explained how she went behind a curtain and cried, but she didn’t let that comment define her. She knew that is not the reason she did poorly at that particular competition. She later claims that she loves her body and that “God gave me this body for a reason.” Most teenage girls would let a comment like that destroy them but she let it empower her and proved her faith to be strong as ever.
Traditionally, gymnasts have been long and lean. Simone Biles explained in her interview she is showing the world that gymnasts can be “short, compact, and powerful.” Her muscular frame gives her the ability to stay on top of her game.
Body image is a huge issue plaguing young girls, but to hear a famous athlete speak up against and speak about how proud she is of her body is refreshing in a society that puts so much pressure on our youth and that pushes such high beauty standards. Multiple times now in interviews, on-screen, and in her autobiography, she encourages all to love their bodies, no matter what they look like.
Simone is also an inspiration to other African American girls who want to become athletes. In an interview with Insider, Simone explained that she didn’t have a lot of African American female role models in the gymnastics world and that was why she was so inspired by Gabby Douglas. Simone said she hoped she “instilled confidence in little African Americans all over the world.”
In August of 2016, Simone won her first Olympic gold medal proving her sacrifices and hard work was worth it but her path to greatest was costly. Countless years and hours in the gym led her to Olympic gold. At those games, she was the only US competitor to compete in all four gymnastic events. That is a feat of mental determination as well as physical and athletic strength.
As I write this, the news that Simone Biles is stepping out of competition in the Tokyo Olympics to protect her mental health is on every major news network. She was favored to win Gold and the USA team was favored to win as well. While this is disappointing to some, it doesn’t change the fact that she is my hero and an amazing role model. She has survived and thrived despite postponed games, injuries, criticism, and more; and it has not stopped Simone from pursuing her dreams. With or without Gold, she still makes me and my daughter proud to have someone so brave who represents the adoption community.
In Simone’s autobiography, I felt she was directly speaking to my daughter when she said, “I want people to reach for their dreams and there are so many people who have inspired me with their love and encouragement along the way and I want to pass on that inspiration to readers.” She has inspired many with her story and her continued excellence.
In her short life, Simone Biles has accomplished more than most do in a lifetime. She has become an inspiration to many young and old worldwide. Even though her life didn’t start out with all the success, love, and applause, she had faith and hard work and a God-given ability she never wanted to waste.
Simone Biles’s success in the Olympics is inspiring and her path to fame is a chance to show my daughter that she can do anything. It proves that a person’s past can be a hard part of their story, but it doesn’t have to define them. Even at the young age of 4, my daughter is proud to be adopted, and it’s beautiful as a mom to share in her joy over other adoptees that have done great things.
As amazing as Simone’s story is, I also want my daughter to know that she doesn’t need to rise to fame in order to be a “success story.” Every adoptee’s success stories look different. For some adoptees, it may be finding healing from the trauma of losing a biological tie and being able to have healthy relationships in their lives. That is a success. For others, it may look like climbing to the top of a cooperate ladder. For some, it may be holding a steady job and living independently in adulthood. Even Simone’s mom told her she would support and love her even if she walked away from gymnastics for a normal life.
For my daughter so far, her many successes include graduating from physical therapy and celebrating that she can run, walk, and climb after having so much restricted mobility as a baby.
You don’t have to have a gold medal for your story to be important or worth sharing. Every journey is beautiful in its own way. Simone Biles’ story shows us that no matter what life hits you with, even falling on your face in front of thousands of people in a competition, you can get back up again and do the impossible.
Photo courtesy of Gary Land