Simone Biles dreams of a gymnastics legacy beyond her medals

"What gives me joy in the sport is trying to be the best that I can be," says the 30-time World and Olympic medallist

5 min By Scott Bregman
Simone Biles

Four-time Olympic gymnastics champion Simone Biles might find her picture next to the words “defined by tremendous challenge and transformation.”

So, it was fitting that history-maker was one of the featured speakers at an online event Wednesday (7 December) designed to highlight a year with the same description. The 23-year-old has time and time again faced challenges and emerged – especially in the four years since her Olympic triumphs – transformed.

In January 2018, the gymnastics superstar came forward to say that she, like so many other women in her sport, was a survivor of sexual assault.

“I kind of had to put my emotions to the side for just a little bit,” Biles told interviewer Moira Forbes of her decision to publicly disclose her abuse during her appearance at the Forbes Power Women’s Summit. “I knew that at the end of the day, I would help so many people all over the world if I shared my story and, if they were going through the same situation, then they can feel safe to speak up and use your voice.”

It was clear then that Biles had realized her own power outside the vault and floor exercise routines, that by using the massive platform she’d earned after Rio 2016 that she could affect change in her sport – and maybe one day in the world.

As 2020 has unfolded, Biles has grown more comfortable speaking out, though she says she knows there are those who’d rather see her "stick to sports." Despite that, she’s shared her views on racial injustice and the importance of voting as November’s U.S. presidential election neared, among other topics.

“We're also human beings and we see the news just like you guys, so why can't we speak on it? We're not professional activists or anything like that, but we have a sense of what is right and wrong in the world, and we're allowed to express that,” said Biles. “That's why we have freedom of speech, so I just say use it.”

She’s also learned that when she speaks, people listen.

“I also think of it as something to look forward to because it's also being a voice for the voiceless, and people who don't have those platforms and can't speak up,” said Biles.

It has all been part of a bigger project: her well-being outside of her gravity-defying feats.

“I work on my part. I've been going to therapy for years,” said Biles. “I need to help other people if they're going through the same thing. [I need to] say, ‘It’s OK to not be OK sometimes.’ That's why I did it, because I just wanted to help other people.”

As she’s grown more comfortable with the spotlight her talent shines, Biles has increasingly shared more about her life outside gymnastics on social media. She often posts photos poolside with friends or with boyfriend Jonathan Owens (an NFL player on the Houston Texans). Both are what Biles frequently refers to as "finding what fills my tank" outside the sport she still very much loves.

“When I was younger doing the sport, I kind of just focused one hundred percent on gymnastics. And then outside of the gym, I still focused on gymnastics,” explained Biles. “As I've gotten older, I just have to put my energy in the right compartments because I realize that if I'm still focusing on the gym at home, I'll be tired.

“So if I want to hang out with friends or family, at the end of the day, I still might be tired,” Biles continued, “but at least I filled my tank back up with things that make me happy.”

That doesn’t mean she doesn’t love her time in the gym.

“I've had the joy for the sport since the first day I stepped into the gym, it's what I wanted to do,” says Biles, who has won 19 World Championship titles. “I actually didn't think I was ever going to make it this far, so I'm very proud of how far I've come and kind of pushed my own personal boundaries, as well as the gymnastics boundaries.

“But what gives me joy in the sport is trying to be the best that I can be. And whatever happens, happens.”

Maybe that’s why – even as the accomplishments have piled up – Biles seems so unaffected, so unconcerned with her medal hauls. Nearly every day at the 2019 World Championships, the Houston, Texas native added one record or another to her name. And nearly every day, Biles reacted with surprise, blissfully unaware of the history she’d written, content to be as mother Nellie says, "The best Simone."

She even jokingly admits that she isn’t always sure how many medals she’s won – it’s 30 when counting her World and Olympic hardware together.

It's unsurprising, then, that Biles says she hopes her legacy in the sport will be something far greater than all her medals or even the skills she’s pioneered which will bear her name in perpetuity.

“I hope that anybody who ever signs up for gymnastics truly feels comfortable with entering their kids in the sport, and they are certain what happened to some of us athletes will never happen again,” said Biles, alluding to her assault. “ That's the hope that I leave [in the sport] and that the kids will find the joy that I've had. I've loved doing it for years.”

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