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Simone Biles

Simone Biles’ mom wants to keep her daughter steady on the balance beam of life

Nellie Biles talks Simone’s ‘village,’ her training and raising an Olympian

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,” Nellie Biles said.

You see, Simone Biles’ 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 de Janeiro to see Simone shine at the Olympics.

Nineteen-year-old Simone and her 17-year-old sister Adria were adopted by Nellie Biles and her husband Ron, Simone and Adria’s biological grandfather, when they were small children. Nellie Biles wants her kids to know and understand they are unconditionally loved — and that’s part of the Biles magic.

Last week, while Simone Biles was on a media blitz, hitting The Ellen DeGeneres Show and Good Morning America, Nellie Biles sat down with espnW in 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 Simone was a gifted athlete?

Nellie 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 her and Simone?

Nellie 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?

Nellie 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?

Nellie 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.

Read more at espnW.

Kelley Evans is a digital producer at Andscape. She is a food passionista, helicopter mom and an unapologetic Southerner who spends every night with the cast of The Young and the Restless by way of her couch.