Simone Biles knows a thing or two about perseverance. And the decorated Olympic gymnast took to the stage at the National Retail Federation convention on Monday morning to share some tips about how to overcome adversity — both in athletics and in business.
“Growing up in the gymnastics world and having to go through a lot of trials and tribulations taught me to never give up — always push forward,” she said. “Sometimes if you make decisions, you might be the only one standing that believes in yourself. At those times, you really have to dig deep and think of the reason why you’re doing it, who you are, what you stand for, what you want to accomplish.”
She said that, growing up, her mother would call her and her siblings into the room in January and ask them to write down their goals for the year. When she was young, it was easy, but as she got older, she realized “failure was an option.”
“So I kind of changed my perspective on how I looked at that,” she said. “OK, there’s Plan A, then there’s Plan B if that doesn’t work — and then there’s the rest of the alphabet.”
As it turns out, Biles found success at a young age — she was only 19 at her first Olympics — but instead of resting on her laurels, she developed new goals. “What do you do when you reach your dreams at 19?” she asked. “That’s a really good question. So I said, this is going to be just the beginning. And I’m going to make a platform, and I’m going to do whatever I can to be happy and confident and hopefully inspire people.”
As she embarks on the next phase of her life beyond gymnastics, Biles said she’ll continue to use the skills she learned on the mat to excel in business.
“I was a persistent kid,” she said. “If someone told me I couldn’t do something, then I had to prove that I could. And that’s carried on throughout my career. I look at other athletes and their paths from the athletic world into business and strive to follow a similar path.”
Embracing teamwork in both athletics and business is also paramount, she believes. In gymnastics, her success was due in part to her doctors, therapists, parents and teammates. “It does take a village, and I think people tend to forget that, especially in athletics,” she said.
She said she was actually barred from competing in the most recent Games because she was not mentally fit and could injure herself. She said there was a lot going on behind closed doors that people didn’t know about, such as a stalker who was outside her gym every day for seven months and other issues that took their toll on her mental health.
But by going public with her struggle, Biles brought the issue to the forefront and made the previously taboo subject “something normal that everybody may go through sometime in their life. It’s OK to not be OK.”
“I think as an athlete, you kind of learn to navigate and search your brain and to turn it on and turn it off. And I realized there can be happiness outside of gymnastics.”
One of Biles’ first moves outside of the gym came in 2021 when she signed a long-term partnership deal with Athleta with a particular focus on Athleta Girl, which targets six- to 13-year-olds. She said she wanted to work with the company because it was “by women, for women,” and offers a selection for all sizes and shapes. And the company didn’t just support Simone Biles, the gymnast, but rather “just Simone,” she said.
The Athleta Girl initiative, in particular, is near and dear to her since she codesigns special capsules for this young customer. The collection features inspirational sayings in hidden spots of the garments, such as the waistband, including: “Because I Can,” or “Courage Is Your Superpower” as a way to empower these girls, she said. “It’s like having a little Simone on your shoulder.”
Will that Simone be in Paris for the next Summer Olympics? Biles said she’s “trying to figure it out right now. Obviously, mental health comes first. I’m still in therapy and I’m still doing everything so that I can be the best version of myself. So I’ll be in Paris, but don’t know if that is on the floor with those girls or in the stands just cheering.”