When I watch gymnast Simone Biles run, jump and soar, I don’t think about all the years of work this 19-year-old dynamo had to put in to achieve a moment of victory.
I just know that moment is so beautiful it practically brings me to tears.
Commentators were calling Biles the “best female gymnast in history” before she went to Rio. By Monday, she had won three gold medals, and there was the possibility that she would win two more before the games ended.
But it is Biles’ personal history that inspires me.
Because her biological mother got hooked on alcohol and drugs and was unable to care for her four children, Biles and her siblings ended up in foster care in Columbus, Ohio.
Maternal grandfather Ron Biles and his second wife, Nellie, brought Simone and her younger sister, Adria, to live with them in Spring, Texas, a suburb of Houston.
“After a social worker called and said the kids were in foster care, I said, ‘Send them to me.’ I didn’t want them to be raised by a stranger,” Ron Biles said in an interview with the Daily Mail.
After a couple of failed attempts to reunite the children with their mother, Ron and Nellie adopted Simone and Adria. Ron’s sister adopted two other siblings.
A story that Biles has told several reporters captures the sensitivity these grandparents had toward their grandchildren.
“One day Nellie sat [us] down for a talk. She said, ‘It’s up to you guys. If you want to, you can call us Mom and Dad.’ I went upstairs and started practicing it in the mirror. . . . Then I went downstairs and she was in the kitchen. I looked up at her and I was like, ‘Mom?’ She said. ‘Yes!’” Simone told reporters.
There are foster parents doing phenomenal jobs raising kids who have been neglected and abandoned by birth parents.
And then, there are the horror stories of foster parents who have taken on the job for the extra cash.
Biles was favored even before she set foot in a gym in that she had a grandfather and grandmother who had the means to provide a level of support that enriched her life.
She was coached by the best, including Martha Karolyi, the coordinator for the U.S. women’s gymnastics team, received personal tutoring so she could devote more time to training, and has traveled all over the world to compete against the best in her field.
Her parents’ opened the World Champions Centre, a state-of-the-art gymnastics complex, earlier this year.
What the Biles’ story shows is that overcoming the snares that destroy black families requires real sacrifice and real love.
Ron was about to retire from his job with the Federal Aviation Administration and was looking forward to retirement when his grandchildren were abandoned.
And Nellie, the step-grandmother, was raising two teenage sons from another relationship.
While Biles’ tremendous talent as a gymnast is one of those rare blessings, the personal challenges she had to face are all too common among African-American families.
Statewide, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services has legal responsibility for 16,406 children, 8,256 of whom are African-American.
I’m glad Simone Biles’ adoptive parents did not try to hide the troubles they had to overcome on this journey. Maybe their story will help someone else in a similar predicament.
No one knew where Simone Biles would land when she wandered into Bannon’s Gymnastix at 6 years old.
Thankfully, her grandparents made sure it would be better than the place she was leaving behind.