If you haven’t heard of Simone Biles by now, you will soon enough. She’s a super-star gymnast with three consecutive world titles and the first Black woman to become the all-around world champion. Although the Olympic trials have not yet arrived, all signs point to the 19-year-old being a shoe in for the summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Each year, TIME magazine publishes Next Generation Leaders, a list that highlights young stars making a difference in their field. It's no surprise that Biles made the cut for this year's list. The young champion has faced obstacle beyond balance beams and uneven bars on her journey to becoming a professional athlete and this is finally her year to shine.
Biles was raised in Texas by her grandparents, Ronald and Nellie Biles. She was born to a mother struggling with a drug and alcohol addiction. Her grandparents stepped in when Simone was sent to foster care and put up for adoption, taking her in when she was 3 years old along with her sister Adria.
“The girls, along with their two older siblings, came to live with the Biles and their two teenage sons for nearly two years. It was a temporary arrangement, since their mother still had parental rights, but soon after they sent the children back, the social worker called again with the news that their grandchildren were up for adoption; their mother wasn’t deemed fit to care for them.”
Biles always thought of her life and circumstances as normal telling TIME that when she was young "[She] thought every kid was adopted."
“I didn’t understand why people made it such a big deal," she added. Biles is still in contact with her birth mother, but her focus, she said, is on the family and the life she has built with her grandparents.
“I wonder what my life would be like if none of this happened,” she says. “I want to know why my mother did what she did. But those aren’t questions for me because that was her lifestyle when I wasn’t even born. I have everything I need so there are no blanks left unfilled. I never felt I had questions or needed answers or had a part of me that was missing.”
If none of it happened, She would have never gone on that daycare field trip to the gymnastics center that first sparked her interest in the sport, her grandmother would have never enrolled her in classes to keep her from flipping and jumping over and around the furniture. Biles “was immediately hooked” to gymnastics, the competition, the performance - and it always shows. Biles told TIME that U.S. Women's Team Coordinator Martha Karolyi, told her after a meet that she was “enjoying herself too much.” and getting distracted. “She was like, tone it down a bit,” says Biles. “I don’t think she knew that was me in my zone.” But it's this passion and dedication that is making Biles a star, a fan favorite, and a future Olympian. Read her TIME profile and check out her most recent floor routine below!