After 13 years of training, Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles took some time off to catch up on life outside of a gymnasium post her epic 2016 Rio Olympic victories. Our country’s most decorated gymnast enjoyed a whirlwind of bucket-list experiences — she met her celebrity crush Zac Efron (along with the Obamas and countless other celebs), she was honored as the 2017 Best Female Athlete at the ESPY Awards, she was a semifinalist in Dancing With the Stars, she released the book Courage to Soar: A Body in Motion, A Life in Balance, and now her book is being translated into a Lifetime original biopic.
Like the book, the film begins with her childhood, following her journey from foster care — she was adopted by her maternal grandfather at age 6 — to her 2016 Olympic triumphs, capturing the highs and heartaches along the way. Biles recently took time out from her 32- to 36-hours-a-week training schedule (she’s back in the gym with 2020 on her mind) to chat about her movie and what’s next for the 20-year-old superstar.
Tell us about going on set, watching your life played out by actors and reliving everything.
Simone Biles: I got to go one weekend for two days and go on set, and see everyone, and then do some behind-the-scenes kind of things. I’m really happy with it, and really excited. They were shooting the Olympic scene, and I could not stop smiling because the arena they had set up — where we competed at in Rio — it looked exactly the same on set. It was kind of like I was back in Rio. It was very emotional, and exciting, and brought back all the feelings. I would say I’m most excited about that part because I got to relive it. … The first time I actually get to see the whole entire movie is when it airs.
So what are your plans to watch it? Are you going to invite some of your Final Five gals to screen it with you?
I wish, but I think everyone’s so, so busy that it would be hard to all come together in one place and do something like that. But definitely friends and family.
Your life is so inspirational. What do you want people watching to know about you?
To realize that I’m a normal person just like them, and it doesn’t matter where you start from, it’s where you go from there and your outlook on everything, and to try to be positive. I want them to realize that I was a kid going through some of the same struggles that they’re going through, and it’s just not like I was put into this. I had to work for it. I had goals. It took a lot of determination, a lot of sacrifices. Because people don’t see the mountains that you have to climb to see what you’ve achieved. They only see the outcome.
And speaking of the sacrifices, people also don’t realize how difficult it is to be away from your family, to be traveling and missing out on normal school life. Can you share a little bit on that?
I don’t think people realize how much you miss in school, [specifically] the social aspect. You don’t get to go to the football games, you don’t get to go to the prom, the homecoming, and that’s like a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing, you know? You dream of going to prom, and going to all the school dances, and all of this, and just living out that high-school journey. I was home-schooled, so I didn’t get to experience any of that. So I had to sacrifice a lot. Then just being around my friends. … Every weekend, they’re like, “Hey, Simone, come do this,” and I’m like, “I can’t. I’m really just too exhausted,” or “I have Saturday training,” or “I have this.” So I really did give up a lot.
For someone who didn’t read your book, what do you think would surprise them to learn about you?
When I was younger there was a part in my book where I call, like, the “bratty phase,” where I was just going through some times, you know. So they’ll show a little bit of that in the movie with the attitude problem, and I think people would be surprised to know that. I think once they see someone win the Olympics, or this, you figure their whole entire life is perfect, but I’m just a normal girl, and I go through the same things they went through.
As for the 2020 Olympics?
I mean 2020 would be the ultimate goal, but you just never know what God has planned for you.
The Simone Biles Story > Lifetime > Feb. 3
Playing The Part
Simone Biles actually got to select the actress to play her, relative newcomer and gymnast Jeanté Godlock. “I actually think she kind of looks like me so that was kind of crazy,” Biles says. “Very bubbly, great personality.” The two immediately struck up a friendship. “I invited her and the girl that plays my sister [Raven Bowens] to dinner, and we had a really good time, so we still keep in contact.”