The Trials of Simone Biles: Im Still Stuck in My Thoughts All the Time

My heart is so fullbut I also just wanna cry all the time.

These are not the sentiments one would expect from Simone Biles, the greatest gymnast to ever live. In public, the four-time Olympic gold medalist lights up every room she walks into or red carpet she struts down with her infectious smile and sports-legend charisma. She may be 4-foot-eight, but she is truly larger than life. (Having all-too-briefly basked in her presence, I can attest to this.)

Lately, however, the 20-year-old has been coming to terms with the abuse she suffered at the hands of Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics doctor who stands accused of molesting over 265 girlsincluding numerous members of the USA Womens Gymnastics teamand who will spend the rest of his life in prison.

Biles came forward with her story on January 15th, in a note posted to Twitter accompanied with the #MeToo. It read, in part: Most of you know me as a happy, giggly, and energetic girl. But latelyIve felt a bit broken and the more I try to shut off the voice in my head the louder it screams. I am not afraid to tell my story anymore. I too am one of the many survivors that was sexually abused by Larry NassarAfter hearing the brave stories of my friends and other survivors, I know that this horrific experience does not define me. I am much more than this.

When I ask Biles about the above tweets she posted on January 25 as the Nassar trial unfoldedwhich included several emotional impact statements read in court by his accusersthat wonderful smile disappears.

It takes a lot, she says. I start counseling soon. For one human being to be put through so much, its very emotionally draining, physically draining, and it takes more energy out of you to almost hide it than it takes to give. Im working on that part. Inside the gym is all good but outside Im still stuck in my thoughts all the time. So Im going to counseling to deal with that.

Biles has a ridiculous amount on her plate right now. In addition to the Nassar trial, she is in the midst of training for the 2020 Summer Olympics (six hours a day) and is taking a business administration class at University of the People, an online college (three hours a day). Theres also a Lifetime movie on her, The Simone Biles Story: Courage to Soar, premiering Feb. 3.

With all that going on, she still managed to take some time to sit down with me in New York and discuss all things Simone Biles.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Hows New York treating you?

Its good. Busyvery busy!

I saw that Halsey gave you a shout-out at the recent Womens March here in New York. She called you and the other gymnasts targeted by Larry Nassar heroes who remind her why we rally.

That was really cool. Her and G-Eazy are dating and theyre so cute.

Most of us block out a lot of feelings because were told, as elite athletes, that were not allowed to feel the same things that other people feel or were not allowed to show emotions.
Simone Biles

I saw you retweet a message recently that really stuck with me. It said that the names for the USA Womens Gymnastics teams, the Fierce Five and Final Five, have taken on a whole new meaning in light of the disturbing Nassar revelations: that 2012 were fierce survivors and 2016 will be the final group to have to suffer his horrific abuse.

It has a different meaning now. Now that he is locked up, he can no longer hurt any more gymnasts, athletes, anyone. At all. I think its cool how our name relates to that. I wish it would be a different reason, because we were Marthas [Karolyi] Final Five and I wish we couldnt relate the two cause its a very unfortunate situation and saddening to see how that correlates, butit is what it is.

Its hard to fathom how you were able to accomplish what you didfour gold medals, including the all-around and team goldsunder normal circumstances, but under such horrific, stressful, chaotic circumstances, its almost unfathomable. Im just a viewer, but gymnastics appears to require such laser-like precision and focus.

At a young age were taught to block out our feelings, because if youre too emotional it gets into your head and you dont perform as well, so were very good at compartmentalizing things. And thats something nobody wants to think abouteverso Im very good at blocking out the bad thoughts.

Im sure you saw that amazing GIF of Judge Rosemary Aquilina tossing Nassars letter away.

The paper! I did. That was great. Shed had enough. We all have.

Ive always wondered, as someone just completely in awe of what youre able to accomplish on the mat and beam, what youre thinking while youre flipping in the airor if youre thinking at all.

Me personally, I dont like to think, because once you think you tend to overthink it. So I just dont think. My head is completely clear. Its like airplane modeweve done it so many times, so were on autopilot.

Do you have any pre-competition rituals? Listen to any music or anything? I youre your fellow Olympian Michael Phelps was listening to Futures Stick Talk when he made the infamous Phelps Face that went viral.

[Laughs] No, I dont do any of that. Im not very superstitious or anything.

Are any of the other members of the Final Five going to be joining you in 2020?

Thatsthat is for them to decide when theyre ready, if they want to continue the sport or want to retire.

The women of USA Gymnastics have, of course, endured so much. What are your thoughts on the culpability of USA Gymnastics, and how to prevent something like this from ever happening again?

The whole entire board resigned, so theyll have to reform and rebuild their whole constitution and theres still a lot of investigating that needs to be done, but to start from the ground you have to really tear it all down and start over.

I saw that you have a new, hunky boyfriendsorry, Im not sure if its boyfriend status or notbut has having him [Stacey Ervin] around helped you at all during this time?

Its very hard for him to understand, but hes from the gymnastics world so he knew the doctor as well. Nobody in my family is very happy with the way everything went downas are all of the other familiesbut theyre here for us, and hes an amazing boyfriend, so Im grateful for him. I cant ask for anything else.

Youre the first global ambassador for University of the People, the first ever non-profit, tuition-free American accredited online university, and are currently enrolled there taking classes. Im sure every college would have loved to have you, so why this one?

It was a great opportunity. Because I do travel so much, to attend classes isnt that easy for me and I dont really have time for it, but with this online university I can take it with me wherever I go. Its very accessibleand affordable as well.

And youre majoring in business administration tomanage your millions? Just kidding.

[Laughs] Ive always wanted to do something with business, so well see where that takes me. Im only taking one class right now because one requires fifteen hours a week, and I train from thirty-two to thirty-six hours a week, so I dont really have time to take another class. Just one class at a time.

Youve also helped establish the Simone Biles Legacy Scholarship Fund there, which is billed as being designed to assist foster childrenlike youachieve their college dreams.

I wanted to help other kids that dont have access or dont have the opportunity to go to school. Once you get out of college, once youre a graduate, if you dont have a full scholarship youre already in student debt, so its great to give people this who didnt think college was possible for them.

Speaking of your childhood, when you look back on it are you sometimes in awe of how far youve come? Its really something when you consider where your story began, in and out of foster homes before your grandfather and Nellie took you in.

Every now and again, I do. You have to set goals for yourself otherwise youre going to stay in the same placeyoure going to be stuckso going from a little girl to a young adult, I feel Ive achieved a lot. But it came with a lot of sacrifices and dedication, so it wasnt an easy road. I think everything happens for a reason though, and it was a blessing that I got the outcome that I did, so I can only be thankful and gratefulI do believe that everything happens for a reason.

Missing out on a normal high school lifeparties and all thatwas part of it, I imagine.

Yeah. A lot of kids just want to party and want stuff to come to them without having to work for it, so I had to give up a lot. I couldnt go to public school, Ive never been to prom or any school dances, so I had to sacrifice a lot.

Let me tell ya: prom is so overrated.

[Laughs] Yeah, but every girl loves to get dressed up every once in a while!

Yeah, but you were honored at the ESPYs! The parties youre going to now are so much better.

[Laughs] I do get to go to some pretty good parties now

Hows the 2020 Olympics prep going? Have you already started training?

Yeah, Im already training. I was supposed to start November 1st but I was in New York for something else, so then I started November 3rd. December, though, was the anchor month where I was really back home and training full-time. Right now its everything; Im back to full-speed where I left off. Im at the gym for six hours every day. Its an hour of conditioning and then forty-five minutes to an hour on each event.

Geez. I can last, like, 45 minutes to an hour total. How are you feeling about 2020?

Itll come around fairly quick. I am excited for it, but you can never think too far ahead because you never know what will happen, so you have to take it day-by-day, meet-by-meet.

The USA Womens Gymnastics team, it seems, will have managed to artfully dodge a Trump White House visit, right?

[Laughs] I wouldnt say that!

Well yall visited the Obama White Houseand took over its Instagram, which was greatin September 2016, and since the Olympics arent till summer 2020, you could miss having to make that decision entirely, maybe

[Laughs] We had a different president in the White House and we had the opportunity and honor to go visit, sothats all Im going to say!

Its in Tokyo in 2020, too. Ive never been to Tokyo…except the airport. Very jealous.

The culture is great and the people are so nice there, and everything is really clean. Its great there.

Theres this Lifetime movie about your life, The Simone Biles Story: Courage to Soar, premiering on Feb. 3. That must be pretty weird, having a movie attempt to tell your story.

Its definitely pretty weird to have a movie about yourself! Were going to have a watch party at the housea little one, with family and friends and some really good food.

That sounds like fun. Did you have any input in the film or get to choose who played you?

I had a lot of input, especially choosing the actors that played my parents and myself. That was important to me. And whenever I was there visiting the set, I had a say in how it went down, and I got to read and change the scripts around so that the dialogue reflected things Id actually say.

I wanted to circle back to 2020. The team wont have to train at the Karolyi Ranch anymore, right?

Yes, we dont have to return there anymore. They shut it down, thankfully.

With everything thats happened, I still dont really know how you do ithow you go out there and kick ass time and again. Your focus is justincredible.

You know, people mistake athletes. They think were standing on these pedestals as goddesses but we have our own issues. They think we have these perfect lives because of what weve managed to accomplish, and most of us block out a lot of feelings because were told, as elite athletes, that were not allowed to feel the same things that other people feel or were not allowed to show emotions. People forget that were going through our own struggles. They think, you have money, you have this, you have that, how can your life be so difficult? So people tend to forget that we have serious issues were working on, too.

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