Simone Biles Opens Up About the Michelle Obama Advice That Will 'Always Stick with Me'

"She's such a role model that it makes you want to be the first in your category to do something, to strive to perfection," the Olympic gymnast tells PEOPLE in this week's issue

legends who paved the way - simone biles and michelle obama
Simone Biles and Michelle Obama. Photo: Saul Loeb/getty

Following Former First Lady Michelle Obama's example is easy for Simone Biles.

"I think she's been such an inspiration," the Olympic gymnast, 23, tells PEOPLE in this week's issue as one of several Black entertainers, innovators and changemakers paying tribute to those who have inspired them.

Continues Biles, "Representation matters — kids looked at her and said, 'If she can be there, then I can too.' From the way she pushed boundaries to how she inspired young people to eat better and exercise, she changed so many lives."

Gold medalist Biles visited the Obamas at the White House in 2016 after her success at the Rio Olympics.

"She was so down to earth and so much fun," Biles says of the visit, noting that they filmed videos for Instagram and Mrs. Obama even promised future sleepovers with daughters Sasha, now 19, and Malia, 22. "I really enjoyed my visit and I cherish those memories."

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As for advice from the former first lady, 57, Biles says Mrs. Obama's now-iconic catchphrase from her speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention has long stuck with her.

"For me, as an African American woman, something she said that I took to heart was 'When they go low, we go high,' " Biles reflects now. "Sometimes you have to be the bigger person. That'll always stick with me, especially being an African American. I like that one a lot."

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The feeling is mutual between Biles and Mrs. Obama, who has been quick to publicly champion her. Back in 2019, when Biles became the first woman in nearly 70 years to win 6 U.S. all-around titles at the U.S.A. Gymnastics Championships, Mrs. Obama tweeted, "Always breaking barriers, @Simone_Biles — couldn't be more proud of you!"

Biles says that the former first lady is part of the reason she's felt able to break barriers.

"She's such a role model that it makes you want to be the first in your category to do something, to strive to perfection," says Biles.

Updated by
Lindsay Kimble

Lindsay Kimble is a Senior Digital News Editor and the Sports Editor for PEOPLE Digital. She's worked at PEOPLE for over seven years as a writer, reporter and editor across our Entertainment, Lifestyle and News teams, covering everything from the Super Bowl to the Met Gala. She's been nominated for the ASME NEXT Awards for Journalists Under 30, and previously wrote for Us Weekly while on staff at Wenner Media.

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