Four-time Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles credits much of her success to her parents, Ronald and Nellie Biles, who adopted her and her younger sister Adria at age 6.
“Being separated from my biological mom, being placed in foster care before I officially got adopted by my grandparents, it just set me up for a better route at life,” the gymnast said on an episode of her Facebook Watch series, Simone Vs. Herself.
She continued, “I feel like I wouldn’t be where I am unless that turning point happened. I would still be Simone Biles, probably not Simone Biles that everybody else knows, the world knows. But I also believe everything happens for a reason and I’m forever grateful for that because I definitely got a second shot at life.”
Ronald and Nellie have been Biles’s biggest fans and most ardent supporters, and the affection is clearly mutual. “They mean the world to me,” she once said.
Her parents’ support was especially important during the Tokyo Olympics in July 2021, when Biles withdrew from several events to focus on her mental health after experiencing a case of the “twisties,” a phenomenon where she lost her ability to sense her body move in the air, putting her at risk of injury upon landing.
“Thanks for making sacrifices since day 1 so I can live out my dream. but most importantly thanks for always being there for me through all the highs and lows,” Biles wrote on Instagram alongside a photo of her family wearing matching shirts ahead of the games. “You guys are the absolute best. I love y’all.”
Keep reading to learn more about Simone Biles’ parents, Ronald and Nellie Biles.
They met in 1977
When the couple met, Ronald was serving in the Air Force and was stationed in San Antonio, Texas, where Nellie was a nursing student, according to The Undefeated. He was also a single dad to Biles’ biological mother, Shannon. Ronald and Nellie got married on Jan. 16, 1977, and went on to have two sons, Ronald Jr. and Adam.
They adopted Biles at age 6
Shannon struggled with drug and alcohol addiction and was unable to take care of her four kids, leading Biles and her siblings to be placed in foster care. Biles spent three years in the foster care system and has since opened up about the experience. While competing on Dancing with the Stars, the gymnast recalled “always being hungry and afraid” during her time living in foster homes.
“Whenever we had visits with my grandpa I was so excited,” she said. “That was the person I always wanted to see walk in the foster home.”
Ronald and his wife Nellie eventually adopted Simone and her sister Adria, moving them to Houston, Texas. Biles now considers Ronald and Nellie her parents. That early experience left a lasting impression on her, and the athlete now uses her platform to help kids in the foster system.
Biles’s two other siblings, Tevin and Ashley, were adopted by their great aunt and raised in Cleveland, Ohio.
Nellie reflected on when she and Ronald first adopted Biles and her sister in Simone Vs. Herself, saying: “I remember praying for that bonding … because telling them that you love them and you care for them; that’s all words. But then you wake up one day, and you realize that you would do anything for these children. And that you would die for these children. And when that feeling comes, that’s when you know you are truly a mother.”
They encouraged Biles’ talent from the start
Biles first began gymnastics at age 6 after visiting a gymnasium for a daycare field trip. She came home with a note from the coaches, who recognized her talent, encouraging her to enroll in classes; Ronald and Nellie immediately signed her up.
“It was history from there,” Nellie told PEOPLE in 2016. “She never missed a practice. Even if she was sick, I would tell her she should stay home, and she would say ‘No, I have to go to practice!’ ”
“[They] support me in any way possible,” Biles added. “My parents make sure we have everything we need so that we compete to the best of our abilities.”
They’ve been at all of Biles’ competitions, except one
When Biles spoke to Brene Brown about withdrawing from the Tokyo Olympics to prioritize her mental and physical health, she said that not having her parents there due to the COVID-19 pandemic was one of the things that made the experience difficult for her.
“We go over to Tokyo and no audience is allowed, we’re quarantined in our rooms, and can only come out for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Everyone expected us to perform in a certain manner. There was no camaraderie, and my parents weren’t able to go there,” Biles said. “My parents haven’t missed a competition in my life.”
“She always knows where we are sitting, it doesn’t matter the arena. If she’s in a competition, she’ll look and I’ll wave and we make a connection,” Nellie told PEOPLE before the Tokyo games. “It’s going to be different because she thrives on the noise. The more you cheer, the better she feels about herself.”
They own the gym where Biles trained at
Ronald and Nellie own World Champions Centre, the training facility in Spring, Texas, where Biles trained. Biles’ brother, Adam Biles, was formerly the general manager of the gym. The couple opened the gym in 2014 so that their daughter could continue to train with her longtime coach, Aimee Boorman, without hopping from gym to gym based on Boorman’s employment.