Simone Biles finds herself in a role she never imagined: mental health advocate.
When the seven-time Olympic artistic gymnastics medallist withdrew from the team, all-around, and two of the three days of apparatus finals to focus on her mental health to deal with the now infamous 'twisties,' she didn't fully understand the global conversation it would spark.
"See for me, that was the hardest part because speaking out on mental health, I knew that I could have the possibility of becoming an advocate for that. But it wasn't my goal. It's not what I really wanted," Biles told Olympics.com in an exclusive interview prior to her Gold Over America Tour’s third stop in Anaheim.
"So, to kind of be put at the forefront, it's like... I'm still going through my own thing. So how am I supposed to teach people, hey, like, you should do this or this, but everybody goes through that process differently and there are different methods that work for each individual person," the American continued. "So, I didn't really want to, but at least we're going through it together and I could teach them something in that."
One thing Biles has learned is to rely on those closest to her, her parents, coaches, and boyfriend.
"It's really important to use that support system and know they're there for you and not against you, because at the end of the day, us as humans, we hate asking for help," Biles said. "We think we can do it on our own, but sometimes we just can't. So use every outlet given to you."
Biles' post Tokyo whirlwind
Biles' life since the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in 2021 has been non-stop: a vacation to Cabo, MTV’s Video Music Awards, the Met Gala, and the start of a 35-city U.S. tour.
“Goodness, I feel like since coming back from Tokyo, there's been highs and lows. Definitely the highs that's been like going to the Met, going to Cabo with my friends,” Biles said.
Her favourite moment of those highs: a meeting with singer Billie Eilish.
“I love her. I love her music. I love how she's always stayed true and authentic to herself. And she's so young and she's accomplished so much. So that was amazing meeting her,” said Biles.
The same descriptors could be used for Biles, the 24-year-old, whose 32 world and Olympic gymnastics medals ties her with Soviet great Larisa Latynina for second all-time. Only Vitaly Scherbo, with 33 total medals, has more.
Biles on tour
But Biles wants to make clear she – and other athletes – are more than their accomplishments. It's why she's continuing the conversation she started in Tokyo as she travels across the United States.
"For me, it was important to include the mental health aspect because I know a lot of people coming out to watch this show go through similar things and to know that I'm not just brushing it aside or hiding it under the rug, that I'm bringing that talking and viewpoint to the forefront," Biles explained.
Believing in yourself and that there’s gold inside everyone are two prominent themes in the ‘Gold Over America’ show.
“I would say it has a lot of strength, courage. It's exhilarating. There are sad parts, but there are ups and downs in life. And I think that's what we're trying to portray in these shows, that we're human as well, not just athletes,” said Biles. “And we have some similarities that you guys might not think about. But once you watch the show and the storytelling and the line is really good.”
Her own touring show is a goal that she wrote down in 2015 when signing with her agent. Six years later, it’s a reality.
“I was 18 years old, and she said, ‘write down a list of dreams and goals you would want to accomplish in your lifetime,’” explained Biles. “And I was like, ‘OK,’ and one of them was have my own tour, not actually thinking you would become anything because it was just a dream. But now we're here and it's unreal.”
Biles' advice for young athletes
Team USA legend Biles understands that young women and men are looking up to her, that the world has watched as she’s accomplished so many dreams in and out of her sport. She also knows that, like in Tokyo, the world has watched as she’s dusted herself off and, quite literally, got back on the beam.
And four-time gold medallist Biles wants the young gymnasts that attend her ‘GOAT’ tour to understand both are OK.
“I hope young women take away that it's OK to not be OK. You can speak up for what you believe, and you can do things alone,” she said. “It's OK to kind of be shot down. Sometimes, it's how you get up and pick yourself back up and that women are strong alone. They don't really need anybody else. But I just think it's really powerful and the strength that you see in this show – hopefully, girls can walk away with that.”
Biles on competing at Paris 2024
As for when Biles will walk away from gymnastics, that remains to be seen. Prior to the Tokyo Games, her mother, Nellie, said she hoped her daughter would compete as a specialist at the Paris 2024 Games.
Biles, herself, said she liked the idea of taking her French coaches Cecile and Laurent Landi to a Games in their home country.
“Cecile and Laurent are from Paris so they've kind of guilted me into at least being a specialist and coming back," she said in April.
But in Anaheim, Biles was less certain of what the future holds.
“Right now, I'm trying to take it one step at a time. I really feel like I haven't fully got to process Tokyo yet. So, once I fully understand and process that, I'm sure it'll lead me towards which direction I want to go towards,” she said.
“In the back of my head, it's like, ‘Yeah, I'm going to do it’ but then my body and everything else tells me no,” Biles continued. “I have to gauge it. I'm not sure yet.”
No matter what the future holds, Biles has already accomplished more than she ever thought possible. She says she's gotten where she is today by never stopping to expand the realm of what she could do.
"I would say dream big and then, after that, dream bigger, because I never thought in a million years I would be doing what I'm doing, because I just wanted to do college gymnastics, get a college scholarship. And then once I kind of got to that point, I was like, OK, how far can I take it?" said Biles of her advice to the next generation. "And, then, I got to worlds and I was like, OK, maybe the Olympics. And now it's like five years later, two Olympics.
"I've accomplished more than my wildest dreams. So dream big, then dream bigger after that."