How Gymnast Simone Biles Overcame Being Given up by Her Mother to Become an Olympic Gold Hopeful
Three-time U.S. all-around gymnastics champion Simone Biles easily took her fourth national title on Sunday – and for gymnastics fans, her sweeping victory came as no surprise.
Biles, 19, is the clear frontrunner to win gold at the Rio Games this summer and if she does, it will be even more momentous considering the teenager’s journey to the top.
The bubbly 4-foot-8 Olympic hopeful with twinkling eyes and an infectious giggle was born to a mother addicted to drugs and alcohol. As a young child she was placed in foster care before she could be adopted by her maternal grandfather, Ron, and his wife, Nellie.
Biles, who considers Ron and Nellie her parents, says she wouldn’t be where she is today – the greatest in her sport – without them.
“[They] support me in any way possible,” Biles told PEOPLE at the 2016 Team USA Los Angeles Media Summit in March. “My parents make sure we have everything we need so that we compete to the best of our abilities.”
Nellie and Ron officially adopted Biles and her sister Adria in 2003, and raised the girls together in Texas.
At the age of six, the loving parents enrolled Biles in a gymnastics class in Houston, Texas. Her incredible athleticism and zest for the sport was undeniable from the start.
Nellie says it “was history from there.”
“She never missed a practice,” Nellie tells PEOPLE. “Even if she was sick, I would tell her she should stay home and she would say ‘No, I have to go to practice!’ ”
Biles says her adoptive parents have been beside her every step of the way since – guiding her and supporting her on her quest for Olympic gold.
The athletic dynamo, who has garnered the nickname “the Michael Jordan of gymnastics,” has dominated the sport ever since she began competing at the senior level in 2013. Biles has since won 11 national titles in total.
At the U.S. championships on Sunday, she became the first woman in 40 years to win four U.S. all-around titles in a row.
With a score of 125, Biles’ landslide 3.9 point-win ahead of runner-up Aly Raisman, was no surprise to former gymnast and friend Shawn Johnson East, who describes Biles as “the greatest gymnast” she’s ever seen.
“She is paving a whole new way for gymnastics,” Johnson East tells PEOPLE of Biles, who gave her former gymnast pal a wink in the middle of her flawless floor routine over the weekend.
“The skills she throws are some of the hardest ones we’ve ever seen in women’s gymnastics,” adds Johnson East. “A lot [of her skills] you’ve never seen done before.”
Johnson East says Biles, barring injury, is a shoo-in to to make the women’s gymnastics team heading to Rio – and the top contender for gold at the Games.
“She’s the greatest of all time,” she says. “It’s ridiculous.”
Biles trains for 32 hours a week to prep for Rio. She works out once a day on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday and twice a day on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.
But Sunday, her single day off, is devoted almost entirely to her family.
“We go to church on Sunday and then have family dinner,” she says. “My mom usually cooks and most of the time it’s protein and something else. She will ask us kids what we want!”
Although Biles is a firm lock to make the Olympic team – her stunning floor exercise routine and incredibly difficult Amanar vault left judges and fellow competitors in awe – she says the July trials are still daunting.
“Right now when I think about the Olympics, it’s not too much,” she explains. “I think of trials more than the actual Olympics, because that’s one of the hardest steps until you’re named to the team.”
To learn more about all Olympic hopefuls, visit teamusa.org. The Rio Olympics begin August 5.