Simone Biles, who just won the Olympic gold medal in gymnastics and is arguably better at her sport than any woman in history, was born in Ohio in 1997 to a mother who was using drugs and a father who soon abandoned her.
For a while, Simone was in and out of foster care as her mother repeatedly tried, and repeatedly failed, to get clean. Finally, in 2002, Simone and her younger sister, Adria, were adopted by their grandfather, Ron, and their step-grandmother, Nellie, who lived in Texas with their two teenaged sons.
The transition was tough on everyone, Ron and Nellie have told reporters.
“You do not one day wake up and decide ‘Oh good, I’m going to be her mother and I’m going to love being her mother,’” Nellie, 61, said earlier this year. “It wasn’t an easy transition because they didn’t have any connection to me and I didn’t have any connection to them.”
“I don’t think you could prepare yourself for something like that.”
But family therapy helped.
“The counseling was the best thing we did for our family,” said Nellie, a former nurse and nursing home owner. “Simone always talked for Adria, always nurtured her and took care of her. Simone had to realize that she could be a kid. She had to relinquish the job of caring for Adria to me. She finally did when she began to feel safe.”
The counseling also helped the girls, the boys, and Ron and Nellie lower their emotional barriers and unite, according to Nellie. Before long, the six of them were bound by “unconditional love.”
“It’s not something you can plan; it just happens,” Nellie said.
“I would do anything for those girls. I would kill for those girls.”
Adopting them, she said, was “the best decision we made.”
Ron and Nellie told Simone long ago about how they came to be her parents, but she’s never considered it a big deal.
“To me, it’s just normal,” said Simone, who calls Ron and Nellie “Dad” and Mom” and only occasionally speaks with her birth mother.
“I have everything I need, so there are no blanks left unfilled. I never felt I had questions or needed answers or had a part of me that was missing.”
Simone took her first gymnastics class at age six, shortly after moving in with Ron and Nellie. She has dominated the international gymnastics scene since 2013, when she was 16 and won the gold medal in the individual all-around contest at the World Championships in Belgium. She also won the World Championship title in 2014 in China and in 2015 in Scotland.
In July, Simone and four other female gymnasts were selected to represent the United States at the Olympics in Rio.
On Tuesday, she led the group to a blowout victory in the team competition, and this afternoon, she easily won the individual all-around.