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Detailed Biles Memoir Filled With Emotion
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The December issue of International Gymnast includes a review of "Courage To Soar." It is about family, faith and fun, which, like a braid, are weaved throughout this memoir of Simone Biles. And her candid story-telling is every bit as captivating as her gymnastics. Following is an abbreviated version of the review.

The 250-page book begins at the 2011 Visa Championships in St. Paul, Minn., where Biles placed 14th in the juniors. The top 13 were named to the national team, and Biles rues the fact that she did not attempt an Amanar vault because she didn’t feel ready to do it. As the team members were announced, Biles hid her disappointment as best she could.

“I’d been determined not to act like a big baby, but once we got back to the hotel, I couldn’t hold it in any longer,” she writes. “Oh, I cried. I threw myself across the bed and bawled.”

The story shifts to her childhood with a detailed account of her early years in Columbus, Ohio, with her biological mother, Shanon. Child protection services intervened when Simone was 3, since her mother had substance abuse issues.

A merry-go-round of foster homes followed until Simone’s grandparents, Ron and Nellie, adopted her and younger sister Adria. (Shanon is Ron’s daughter from a previous marriage.)

Once settled in the Houston area with Ron and Nellie, Simone and Adria finally felt secure. When the sisters visited Bannon’s Gymnastix on a daycare field trip, Simone found her calling. Coach Veronica, who is Aimee Boorman’s mother, discovered Simone, who was only 6 years old at the time. Nellie enrolled both her daughters in classes, and as Simone moved quickly up the ranks, Aimee became her full-time coach.

At the 2012 Visa Championships in St. Louis, Simone was determined to do better than she had the year before. And she did. Simone placed third all-around, placed first on vault and was one of only six juniors to make the national team. The next year would be a critical turning point in her career, however.

Simone had a horrible meet at the 2013 Secret Classic, a qualifier for the U.S. Championships. Boorman scratched her from the meet before vault, since Simone had crunched her ankles on her floor dismount.

Afterward, Simone overheard another coach attribute her poor performance by saying, “She’s too fat.” The comment devastated Simone, who explained what she had heard to Marta Karolyi, U.S. national team coordinator. Marta told her she wasn’t fat, and invited her to the “ranch” for a private training session. As history shows, Simone has not lost a major all-around title since.

Contrary to what fans see in competition, Simone was not always the giggly teenager who hits every routine with apparent ease. "Aimee will tell you that for almost two years my attitude sucked," she writes. There was also the immense pressure Simone felt prior to the Rio Olympics, where she had the chance to win five gold medals. This time she freaked out on the bed in her Houston home. "My chest heaved, and I could barely catch my breath. I felt as if I was having a full-blown panic attack.”

There is one factual error in the book relating to the Olympic all-around competition. When Aliya Mustafina took the lead after uneven bars in the second rotation, Simone writes that “Aliya is a top-caliber bar specialist, and she’d tied with Maddie Kocian for the bars title at the last Worlds.” (Mustafina did not compete in the 2015 Worlds.) Such is the risk of publishing a book so soon after the Rio Games.

Still, "Courage To Soar" is both revealing and inspiring. The reader learns that everything doesn’t always come so easily to Simone Biles. At times, she struggles with life like everyone else. And it will be interesting to see if she returns to competitive gymnastics.

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