U.S. gymnastics superstar Simone Biles may have five Olympic medals swinging from her neck, but it's her mother Nellie Biles, who feels like the ultimate champion.
"Simone's road to Rio was such an amazing journey for our whole family. I'm just so thankful," noted Mrs. Biles.
You see, Simone's accomplishments are rooted in her mother's ability to create a "village" (a tight-knit community of family and friends) that supports her daughter through ups, downs and everything in between. For instance, the extended Biles family does a weekly family dinner, attends church together -- and all flew out to Rio to see Simone shine at the Olympics.
Nellie, who adopted 19-year-old Simone and her 17-year-old sister Adria when they were small children, along with her husband Ron (Simone and Adria's biological grandfather), wants her kids to know and understand they are unconditionally loved -- and that's part of the Biles magic.
Last week, while Simone was on a media blitz, hitting "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" and "Good Morning America," Mrs. Biles sat down with espnW from her hotel room in midtown Manhattan to discuss her commitment to family and how she keeps her daughter steady on the balance beam of life.
espnW: At what point did you know you Simone was a gifted athlete?
Biles: From the start she absolutely loved gymnastics. I always supported her, but I never thought much of it. It wasn't until 2012, when Simone won her first all-around [at the American Classic in Huntsville, Texas], that I really started to believe... wow, my daughter really gets this sport.
The following year she was a senior in high school, and had turned 16 years old. So, a lot of things were evolving in her life. Simone started having problems with concentration and her focus was off, and as a result her performance was a bit rough at the Secret U.S. Classic. After that competition, we talked to a sports psychologist, which helped her regain focus.
I believe her talking to those two therapists was really key. She then went on to win the women's individual all-around at the [2013 World Artistic Gymnastics Championship in Antwerp, Belgium]. Once that happened, I knew we were headed to greater times. I always knew she could physically do it. She was capable, it was her mental status that needed to be aligned. And it all worked out.
espnW: Your daughter Adria is a gymnast as well. How do you help create a sense of work/personal life balance for she and Simone?
Biles: I think it's important that we function as a family. Not only for my two girls, but for Simone's brothers, too; because I have four children. The boys are grown and live on their own. But, they still come to the house and visit quite frequently.
But, in particular Simone and Adria normally train all week except Sunday. So there's no real break. However, on Saturday, they start at 9 a.m. and end at 1 p.m. Because that's an early end day, the girls often use that afternoon to get their nails or hair done.
However, during the week, they are balancing school work and gymnastics, and that pretty much takes up their time. Then Sunday is family day, so we always go to church together. And I normally leave it up to the girls to decide what we are having for Sunday dinner, and they will argue about what they want, but they eventually come to some sort of consensus. The boys come over in the evening time, and we just enjoy each other's company.
espnW: What was your most memorable moment in Rio?
Biles: There are a few for me. But, just celebrating all of Simone's accomplishments was just so special. We didn't get a chance to see her that often, because Simone was in the Olympic village, and we were in a hotel. We brought a group of 17 family members and friends to Rio with us, just to support her. So having such a huge amount of support in general, was quite memorable.
Each time we came back from competition, we'd all sit down and celebrate as a group. We wanted to recall and discuss what we had just witnessed, and it was just so special to share those moments with friends and family. We all got together about six or seven times during the Olympics and it was simply amazing, after each competition, we all shared that experience together.
Though, there was one particular moment that truly stuck out to me. It was when we first saw Simone, which was when the U.S. won gold in team competition, she along with the other gymnasts came around to our hotel. It was a big celebration for all of the athletes and families, and that was an amazing experience for us all.
espnW: What goes through your mind when Simone is in competition?
Biles: I am absolutely a basket case during competition. Whenever we go to the meets, my family knows not to talk to me. I'm in my own space. I don't want any comments. I don't want anyone to say anything to me until it's over. Now depending on how nervous I get, I'll squeeze my husband's hand or Adria's hand. I may look calm, but I'm not! I'm [a] total wreck until it's over. I cannot eat or drink the entire day leading up to the competition.
I'm sure partnership proposals are flooding your inbox post-Olympics, why did you think the "My Black is Beautiful" and Tide's "Small but Powerful" campaigns were a good fit for you and Simone?
Biles: The Tide PODS concept alone. My daughter is small in stature, but she's incredibly powerful. The fact that they made that analogy between the PODS and Simone, was just so fitting. Also, Proctor & Gamble's "My Black is Beautiful" campaign (which features P&G products that caters to an African-American female demographic) -- the goal of it is to promote women feeling comfortable in their own skin. The message is about black women empowering themselves, and embracing themselves both inside and out. And that's a very important platform for my daughter and me.
espnW: You and your husband Ron opened World Champions Centre in Spring, Texas, where Simone trains. Do you think the gym was part of her ultimate success?
Biles: So, after the world's completion in 2013, Simone's then trainer Aimee Boorman wanted to discuss finding a new gym. But, I didn't think that was a good idea. I didn't want my daughter bouncing from gym to gym. However, that made me think ... maybe, we should build our own gym, which we did in 2014. Simone started training there right away (it opened to the public in May 2016).
Overall, building the gym was one of the best things I've ever done. It gave her a comfortable place to train, and I would say for the last year, while training for the Olympics, it really helped. She was really grateful to have somewhere to train that was state of the art, with new equipment and she had everything she needed right there.
Plus, it's a great place for other gymnasts as well. So, it's a service to the community. We also have practice space for things like Taekwondo or just tumbling. There's some variety in that gym. We even have a classroom on site, so that the athletes can go to school while training.
espnW: Speaking of Aimee Boorman, as of August 2016, she is no longer training your daughter. How is Simone dealing with the change?
Biles: Aimee and I had an initial conversation about that. From our chat, I got the impression that she had other opportunities coming her way, and that's wonderful for her. It's great that she took advantage. Simply because there's no more Simone in that gym. Simone is off doing her own thing, so it's good that Aimee decided to pursue her dreams as well.
Initially, Simone had a little difficulty with it, but she understands and embraces the idea. I do not know what [Simone] is going to do in respect to training going forward and she doesn't either. But, she'll figure it out when she gets back to Texas. We'll cross that bridge when she's back home.
Ericka N. Goodman-Hughey is a senior editor at espnW. Follow her on Twitter @ericka_editor