'Courage To Soar': Olympic Gymnast Simone Biles' Says It's Not Easy Being Gold
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Simone Biles performed a staggering sweep at this year's Rio Olympics, becoming the first U.S. gymnast to win four gold medals at a single games. In her new autobiography, "Courage To Soar," she writes that as much as she loves gymnastics, the pathway to Olympic gold is hard. In one chapter, she describes trying to learn a routine on the bars, and she falls. She's crying and telling her coaches she doesn't want to try it again. Her coaches won't have it.
SIMONE BILES: They said, well, it's the beauty of the sport. You have your ups and your downs, and it probably won't be the last time you're going to fall, so you have to get up and try it again.
MARTIN: Was there any part of you that wanted to say heck no.
BILES: I did.
MARTIN: (Laughter) You did. Yeah.
BILES: I did say no a lot of times. That's what they had to fling me in the area and force me to do it.
MARTIN: The bars have always been something you've had to really work on. What has been so hard about that particular apparatus for you?
BILES: I think because I started gymnastics at a later age, I picked up beam, floor and vault pretty quickly because it's just the basics of tumbling, basically. But I didn't have the basics to learn that event, so it took a little bit longer.
MARTIN: And did you just instinctively know how to tumble when you were really little?
BILES: Yes. And I used to flip a lot outside of gymnastics. So that's where I kind of learned it. It was - it came fairly easy, and it also helped that I was pretty fearless.
MARTIN: When you were little, were your parents freaked out when you were flinging your body around in all kinds of ways?
BILES: Yes. They were freaked out whenever I would do those kind of stunts and tricks around the house. So I think that's why they took me to an environment where it was safe. There was help if I needed help.
BILES: And there were mats to make everything comfortable because flipping around the house - there's so many things that could go wrong.
MARTIN: I love it. Usually the story is, well, she had a talent, and we wanted to cultivate that talent. But in addition to that, you're saying your parents were also like we need to just provide a safe space for this girl.
MARTIN: 'Cause she's going to hurt herself.
MARTIN: While gymnastics was a great outlet for her energy, there were also downsides. All her training changed her body in ways that were tough for a little girl.
BILES: At times in school, I only wore jackets to cover up my muscles because I had so much muscle, and other girls didn't. Even some of the guys didn't. So I felt very insecure about my body because they would always ask me, hey, let's arm wrestle. Let's do this. Let's do that. And they thought it was for show, but they didn't realize that I used it for gymnastics in a different way. But once I stepped into the gym, all the girls had similar bodies to me, so that's when I realized I have a body for a gymnast.
MARTIN: Yeah. You have spoken a lot about the fact that you were diagnosed with ADHD. What role did gymnastics play in in grappling with your ADHD? I mean, was it a relief to be able to just get into a gym and get energy out?
BILES: At a very young age, I didn't realize exactly what the diagnosis was. But it was a very good outing for me to go get some energy out and then come home tired, do some homework, eat dinner and go to bed easier.
MARTIN: Did you ever think of it as a disability.
BILES: No. I've never thought it was disability because other kids have it, as well. And it's just - we're just more active and hyper than them, and I never think of that as a downfall. If anything, I think of it as a cool thing 'cause, like, we have more energy.
MARTIN: (Laughter) You write in the book that because you had this goal from such a young age, you started to think about your life in these increments based on, like, the Olympic schedule.
BILES: Yes. Every year on January 1st or within that week, my mom would bring me in to her office, and she would make me write down my short-term goals for that year and my long-term goals. So every year built to the pace of where I wanted to be in 2016.
MARTIN: So what did that list look like on January of this past year?
BILES: Short term goals were to make the Pac Rim team, to compete my new second vault and to place top three in my competitions that I competed in. Long-term were to be more consistent on bars, place top three so I would make national team again, make Olympic trials and then make the Olympic team.
MARTIN: Wow. So you didn't even have Olympic gold on that list.
BILES: No. It stopped at Olympic team.
MARTIN: So what now? What do you write on the list in January of 2017?
BILES: I'm not sure yet because all I've ever written is about gymnastics, so we'll turn the page, and we'll see.
MARTIN: Simone Biles, gold medalist many times over. Simone, thank you so much for talking with us.
BILES: No problem. Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.