LONDON (Reuters) - As she approached her 50th birthday, Nellie Biles had thought her days of dealing with stroppy teenagers and adolescent mood-swings would soon be a thing of the past as her two sons were getting ready to fly the nest and head for college.
Then a phone call from a social worker in Ohio sparked a chain of events that shattered the dreams of a quiet future even before it had begun.
The caller informed her husband Ron that his daughter Shanon, who battled alcohol and drug addiction, was incapable of looking after her four young children.
By the end of 2000, Nellie and Ron found themselves responsible for the upbringing of a three-year-old Simone Biles and her toddler sister Adria — having decided to formally adopt Ron’s biological grand-daughters after Shanon’s parental rights were terminated. Ron’s sister took in Shanon’s other two children.
While changing one’s mindset from being a step-grandparent to a parent almost overnight was not easy, it is a decision that helped to make three-times world all around gold medalist Simone Biles into the champion she is.
“It’s really hard to explain because you do not one day wake up and decide ‘oh good, I’m going to be her mother and I’m going to love being her mother’,” Nellie told Reuters in a telephone interview as her 19-year-old daughter gets ready to make her Olympic debut at the Rio Games in August.
“It wasn’t an easy transition because they didn’t have any connection to me and I didn’t have any connection to them. It was a very trying time for me because they were not my children, they were related to Ron.
“I don’t think you could prepare yourself for something like that. Being a grandparent... that’s not something you can change. But then making a decision to adopt Simone and her sister...”
Those initial worries lingered for a while and the newly-expanded family of six worked through their feelings in counseling over the next two years.
“Over time you take your barriers down and that goes both ways,” explained Nellie, who lives up to P&G’s slogan that ‘It takes someone strong, to make someone strong’ as part of the company’s “Thank You, Mom” Olympic campaign.
“Me taking my barriers down and the children taking their barriers down and before you know it there is unconditional love that’s there between both of us, or between myself and my husband, and Simone and her sister.
“That goes for her brothers too, they feel the same way. It’s not something you can plan, it just happens.
“Making a decision to adopt Simone and her sister ... it was the best decision we made.”
While to the outside world the Biles family set-up could be considered rather unconventional, to Simone, things could not have been more normal.
“It never affected or bothered me because I was so young, so I don’t remember anything. It was all very normal,” Simone, who will be aiming to become only the fourth woman to win back-to-back world and Olympic all around titles, told Reuters.
“It’s never been an issue. It’s all I’ve ever known,” added Simone, who still sees Shanon from time to time.
The stability that Nellie and Ron offered included enrolling Simone into a tumbling program in Texas after a daycare field trip to a gym — a decision that eventually turned her into a 10-times world champion.
So when exactly over the last 15 years did Nellie realize that her decision to trade in grandparent duties for that of a mother had been the right call?
“I have no idea when it happened but it happened at some point when all the barriers came down. I would do anything for those girls. I would kill for those girls,” Nellie said.
As her elder daughter, who is already being hailed by many pundits as the best female gymnast ever, looks to produce fireworks at the Rio Games with her powerful tumbles and aerial acrobatics, Nellie had time to reflect on her own relationship with Simone.
“The best thing about being Simone’s mum is looking at your child who sets goals for themselves and works very hard towards their goals. And when you see the outcome, it’s great to be Simone’s mom, it’s a very, very proud feeling.
“The worst part of being Simone’s mom is that at times she is a very stubborn 19-year-old teenager that I could just kill at times,” she added as mother and daughter both dissolved into laughter.
Editing by Ed Osmond