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Black History Month spotlight: Simone Biles raises the bar

World renowned gymnast pushes past adversities from past and present as she pursues passion
Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil
Simon Biles performs at the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Carter G. Woodson planted a seed in 1926 with his Negro History Week that would 50 years later bloom into Black History Month. Black History Month, an annual observance, celebrates the triumphs of Black Americans. The national theme for the 2024 Black History Month features “African Americans and the Arts.” In the spirit of Black History Month, Black heroes, past and present, country-wide and local will be highlighted here in The Feather. The goal of this series is to shed light on lesser known Black Americans who had a great impact in America. This serves to expand students’ understanding of American history by providing them with a glimpse of a piece that is so often missing. 

Simone Arianne Biles helped pave the way for representation of women of color, starting at the young age of 16. In 2013-15, 2018-19, 2023, Biles became the first gymnast to win six world all-around titles. At 16, Biles won her first world all-around title, making her the first African American to win the title.

Biles is a strong character who faced many adversaries as a young African American woman in the spotlight. Biles broke through challenges such as her childhood traumas, racial discrimination, and her experiences with adult pedophelia and sexual assault. Biles never let the tribulations in her life stand in the way of achieving great things.

Born in Columbus, Ohio on March 14, 1997, Biles found her passion for gymnastics shortly after she and her siblings were adopted by their grandparents at the age of six. The Biles siblings were adopted after being placed in the foster care system due to their mother’s problematic substance abuse issues. Having an exuberant passion for the sport, Biles stayed consistent with gymnastics, improving and perfecting the skills involved throughout her childhood. 

After joining, Biles remained for 11 years at Bannon’s Gymnastix. Biles stayed under the direct training of her coach Aimee Boorman. Before advancing to a higher level of competition, Biles won a gold medal for her floor routine at the Women’s Junior Olympic National Championships in 2010. 

In 2013, Biles started participating in senior competitions and by 2015 she had won her third U.S. all-around title consecutively. That title made her the first woman since 1992 to achieve that accomplishment. By the end of the 2015 world championships Biles had earned more world championship medals than any other male or female gymnast ever. 

Simone Biles on the 2016 olympic podium with her all-around gold medal. (Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil)

Everyone who knew Biles recognized her for her dedication, and mindset to always improve her skills. Biles never let any struggles she faced, or discrimination in any way stop her from pursuing her dreams and goals. Biles put in the work to make the future she saw happen. 

“I’d rather regret the risks that didn’t work out than the chances I didn’t take at all,” Biles said. 

Biles took a short break at the beginning of 2018 after speaking up about the sexual abuse she was enduring by a U.S. former national gymnastics doctor, Larry Nassar. Biles was one of many female victims who came forward to address the abuse they faced with Nassar. Chaos spread as during the case, the FBI minimized the allegations of several testimonies, including Biles’s, that described the numerous times they were sexually abused by Nassar. Nassar is now serving up to 175 years in prison after over 265 woman and children reported molestation by him.

Later that year, after taking some time to herself, Biles returned to compete in the 2018 U.S. national championships. Win after win, Biles left the competition being the first female gymnast in about 25 years to win five events within the competition. 

In 2021, Biles was registered for the 2020 Tokyo Games, but the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the event back a year. As the competition started, Biles withdrew from her events due to an immersive occurrence called “the twisties.” This is when a gymnast’s body and mind aren’t synced as one during a performance due to a mental block. Biles’ courage to not compete brought about an important message about the pressure placed on athletes and the toll competition has on their mental health. It was the first time an athlete at that caliber in Generation Z had brought up the conversation of mental health. 

“Put mental health first, because if you don’t, then you’re not going to enjoy your sport and you’re not going to succeed as much as you want to,” Biles said. “So, it’s okay sometimes to even sit out the big competitions to focus on yourself because it shows how strong of a competitor and person that you really are, rather than just battle through.”

Simone Biles is now 26 years of age and married to Jonathan Owens, an American football safety for the Green Bay Packers football team. Biles still competes today, racking up a collection of now 30 medals, 23 of them being World gold medals, and 6 being World all-around titles. Biles has become the most decorated gymnast in World Championship history. Biles put in the work to write herself into history. 

“I’m not the next Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps,” Biles said. “I’m the first Simone Biles.”

To learn more about Simone Biles, go to SIMONEBILES, Britannica, CASA, NBC NEWS.

To read more from The Feather go to Black History Month spotlight: Kadir Nelson illuminates through artistic brilliance or Eagles hit off the season strong

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About the Contributor
Sanjay Stephen
Sanjay Stephen, Journalist
First year Feather journalist, Sanjay Stephen is a hard worker who expresses himself through creativity and art. He pushes himself to try new things, like running hurdles for the Track & Field team and exploring the roots of other cultures. His hobby is coordinating events for his friends and community. Stephen's passion is the area of Arts and Entertainment, where he hopes to expand The Feather coverage. 
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