By Ryan Zepeda —
She’s been called “the greatest gymnast of all time” and “light years ahead of the competition,” but Simone Biles, 21, credits God with her tour de force at the 2016 Rio De Janeiro Olympics where she became the first US gymnast to win four gold medals at once.
“I can go to (God) at any time,” Simone told Fox News. “He knows exactly what I need. Faith can calm me down. Everything happens for a reason.”
The fact that Simone would say everything happens for a reason is profoundly significant. She was born to parents lost in drug and alcohol abuse. She was caromed around the foster care system like a pinball until her grandmother and step-grandfather were contacted by a social worker, and they took her in.
The compact dynamo took overcoming adversity to the next level. She didn’t just “overcome,” she vaulted over obstacles with graceful twists and gasp-inducing flips to impose her dominance on the world stage and declare she would not be held victim to a troubled past.
In addition to her Olympic exploits, Simone is a four-time World all-around champion (2013–15, 2018), four-time World floor exercise champion (2013–15, 2018), two-time World balance beam champion (2014, 2015) and the 2018 World vault champion.
“Some of us older Olympians have talked about there being a physical limit to the sport, and then along comes Simone with all these incredible skills,” says Mary Lou Retton, a gold medal gymnast from 1984. “She’s like nothing I’ve seen in my lifetime.”
Simone was born in 1997 in Columbus, Ohio, the third of four siblings. Her mother, Shanon Biles, struggled with drugs and alcohol, while her father, Kelvin Clemons abandoned with family because of his own addictions.
After bouncing around foster care, Simone moved in with her grandfather Ron Biles, in Houston, Texas, in 2000. Together with his new wife, Nellie Cayetano Biles, Ron provided the necessary stability and Christian upbringing that helped Simone forget her dark past and become a champion.
Simone is 4’8” and so muscular that she used to wear a jacket at school to hide her muscles. She didn’t want to be embarrassed because she looked different than other girls.
It was Ron and Nellie who got Simone into gymnastics as an outlet for her boundless energy — as her older brother Adam says, Simone “was always flipping and jumping on furniture. My parents figured it would be better to put them in a safer environment.”
“I wouldn’t (have been in Rio) without my family,” Simone told the Houston Chronicle. “I can’t thank them enough for all the things they’ve given up for me to do what I love. Every time I compete, they can see that I’m happy.”
The couple officially adopted Simone and her siblings in 2003. They always took them to church on Sunday morning, prayed prayers and even got Simone out early from Wednesday gymnastics practice — to the chagrin of her trainer — to go to Bible instruction. She was homeschooled to accommodate intensive training schedules in the gym.
“I’ve been brought up to never take anything for granted and to always be the best Simone—the best version of myself,” Simone says on Glamour magazine. “From a very young age, (my adopted parents) always believed in us and told us to believe in ourselves.”
Nellie sees the hand of God in Simone’s coming to join her family.
“I’m a very prayerful person,” Nellie told CBN. “I want my children to do the same thing to, to pray. It doesn’t matter what situation you’re in, you just put it in the hands of the Lord, and He’s gonna walk you through it.”
Early in her career, Simone failed to make the national team because she was wowed by the competition and her nerves overcame her. But a sports psychologist taught her to relax in the elite competition. She also learned to pray.
“You can go to (God) for anything, and He’s the One that directs your life. (Mom) would always tell us, leave it up to God, pray to Him about it. Some obstacles always work out for the better because God knows that without those you wouldn’t be as strong as you are.”
With her winsome smile and stratospheric jumps, Simone seized the American heart. This American hero almost didn’t get the chance to live out her dreams, due to her early childhood and initial lack of self-confidence.
“I’d rather regret the risk that didn’t work out than the chances I didn’t take at all,” she now says, filled with faith and assurance that stems from vaulting high with Jesus.
To know more about a personal relationship with God, click here.
Read about fellow Christian gymnast Katelyn Ohashi.
Ryan Zepeda studies at the Lighthouse Christian Academy in Los Angeles.