Simone Biles: I went from foster care to the Olympics

People love to ask: "What's your secret?" Sometimes they want to know how I defy gravity on the mat. Other times they...

Posted: Feb 5, 2018 2:37 PM
Updated: Feb 5, 2018 2:37 PM

People love to ask: "What's your secret?" Sometimes they want to know how I defy gravity on the mat. Other times they want to know how I went from foster care to the Olympics.

My answer to both is the same: a mix of talent, hard work and grabbing the right opportunity when given the chance. When I was far too young to know it, others around me saw that I had a gift for gymnastics. Without their encouragement and support, I would have never been a gymnast.

I was blessed to have both a gift and the chance to develop it. But many people aren't so lucky.

Did you know that in the United States there are nearly 400,000 children and youth in foster care? In my mind, those are 400,000 talents waiting to be discovered. But as few as 3% of foster kids go on to earn a bachelor's degree, compared to about 30% of the general population.

Is it possible that all of these young people have no desire to go on to higher education? Clearly not. They simply lack the support, and often the financial resources and opportunity to realize their potential.

So, I'm speaking up on their behalf to say it's time for an education revolution. It's time for a new model, where everyone has an opportunity to learn no matter their background.

And I want to advocate for these kids because I was a foster care kid myself. My road to success began the day my grandfather and his wife officially adopted my sister and me. My birth mother suffered from drug addiction, and when I was just three years old, my siblings and I were removed from her custody. From there, we bounced around until I was six and my grandparents made the brave move to adopt us.

Although I was young when my foster care ordeal began, I remember how it felt to be passed off and over-looked. Like nobody knew me or wanted to know me. Like my talents didn't count, and my voice didn't matter.

Finding a family made me feel like I mattered. Finding a passion, something I loved and was really good at, made me feel like I mattered. Representing my country and being part of such an amazing Olympic team matters, as does being a role model for those looking to fulfill their own dreams.

Which brings me to the issue of education. There is overwhelming evidence to suggest that children and youth in foster care are a vulnerable population in the education system. Across the United States, 52% of foster youth attend schools that rank in the lowest 30%. Worse yet, nearly a quarter of foster youth struggle with learning disabilities in the school system.

And that's saying nothing of the academic and emotional challenges that accompany multiple family and school placements over the course of childhood.

But if we invest in foster care children, they, too, can have the opportunity to succeed -- which in turn strengthens our communities, economy and society. And one area of investment that I'm particularly concerned with is college.

I always dreamed of going to college. I had planned to go the University of California Los Angeles, but I deferred and continued training at my home gym.

However, I wasn't satisfied with my deferral. I wanted to find a way to pursue my studies while still training for the next Olympic Games, and that's why I enrolled at University of the People, a non-profit, tuition-free online university that is opening access to higher education for students around the world.

The online university format gives me a uniquely flexible opportunity to fit college around my career in a way that didn't otherwise exist. And it isn't just a great solution for competitive athletes. It's an opportunity for anyone who feels that the financial, structural or personal barriers to college are too high for them to overcome.

Knowing what it means to have the odds stacked against you, I believe it is my duty to provide assistance to those most in need. For this reason, I am launching a scholarship fund at UoPeople for foster kids and others. This fund will assist with covering the costs associated with earning their degrees -- including application fees and assessments fees at the end of each course.

Our circumstances shouldn't define us or keep us from our goals, especially if that goal is higher education. My hope is that I can help other foster care children realize that goal in the months and years ahead.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 159036

Reported Deaths: 3879
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto10563104
Hinds10414204
Harrison7397113
Jackson6655128
Rankin6057107
Lee540396
Madison5120107
Forrest394786
Jones376188
Lauderdale3663147
Lafayette341053
Washington3321108
Lamar301950
Oktibbeha255262
Lowndes252867
Bolivar248084
Panola237353
Neshoba2280122
Marshall225051
Leflore211191
Monroe209778
Pontotoc208131
Lincoln200566
Sunflower194155
Warren183058
Tate180451
Union172926
Copiah170840
Pike166760
Scott161330
Yazoo161340
Itawamba159936
Alcorn159328
Pearl River158969
Coahoma155943
Prentiss154931
Simpson154053
Adams147252
Grenada145445
Leake141844
Holmes134461
Covington130040
Tippah130030
George129525
Winston128726
Hancock127641
Wayne123024
Attala122834
Marion121447
Tishomingo114043
Chickasaw110732
Newton110529
Tallahatchie99427
Clay96127
Clarke94853
Jasper87023
Stone82015
Calhoun79513
Walthall79330
Montgomery78426
Carroll75515
Lawrence74614
Smith74216
Yalobusha74228
Noxubee73317
Perry68726
Tunica63019
Greene62422
Jefferson Davis59617
Claiborne59216
Amite57615
Humphreys55219
Quitman5107
Benton50418
Kemper48018
Webster47714
Wilkinson40722
Jefferson38312
Choctaw3637
Franklin3635
Sharkey32917
Issaquena1214
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 256828

Reported Deaths: 3711
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson34214511
Mobile20299366
Madison13925150
Tuscaloosa13591156
Montgomery12659238
Shelby1095877
Baldwin9163137
Lee792566
Morgan710851
Etowah677467
Calhoun6695121
Marshall665757
Houston548239
DeKalb504738
Cullman472043
St. Clair451857
Limestone447546
Lauderdale436054
Elmore427564
Walker3818111
Talladega374457
Jackson350723
Colbert336443
Blount310043
Autauga287342
Franklin259734
Coffee254115
Dale242054
Dallas232932
Chilton230841
Russell22813
Covington227934
Escambia206131
Tallapoosa189191
Chambers185950
Pike162214
Clarke161819
Marion146136
Winston141924
Lawrence135336
Pickens127720
Geneva12638
Marengo125224
Bibb123938
Barbour120629
Butler118842
Randolph105922
Cherokee105524
Hale99732
Fayette96316
Clay93525
Washington93319
Henry8946
Monroe83811
Lowndes82129
Cleburne79914
Macon76522
Crenshaw72930
Conecuh72414
Lamar7138
Bullock70919
Perry6927
Wilcox64918
Sumter58922
Greene44218
Choctaw43519
Coosa3724
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Overcast
51° wxIcon
Hi: 53° Lo: 43°
Feels Like: 51°
Columbus
Overcast
52° wxIcon
Hi: 54° Lo: 45°
Feels Like: 52°
Oxford
Overcast
41° wxIcon
Hi: 43° Lo: 37°
Feels Like: 37°
Starkville
Broken Clouds
50° wxIcon
Hi: 50° Lo: 40°
Feels Like: 50°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather