Days after securing a spot on the 2016 U.S. Olympic Women’s Gymnastics team, Simone Biles practiced her flips, twists and tumbles at the World Champions Centre, her family’s new 52,000-square-foot gym in Spring, Texas.
“It’s the training that we put in and the work that keeps us healthy, mentally and physically,” said Biles, 19, during a mid-July press conference at the center, where media watched her perform on the floor, parallel bars and vault.
The Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro will be Biles’ first appearance at the Olympics, but the 4-foot-9 gymnast has been busy racking up medals for years. She won three consecutive world all-around championships and a total of 14 world championship medals. That’s more than any U.S. athlete ever.
Her training routine is a vital component of her past, present and future success.
During the summer, Biles trains twice a day, 9 a.m. to noon and 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., five days a week with her coach, Aimee Boorman. She uses her three-hour breaks to rest and take care of her body, doing any type of physical therapy she needs to stay in peak physical shape.
“We do preventative physical therapy to make sure the body stays healthy,” Boorman said. “I want to head [injuries] off at the pass. I don’t want to worry about treating an injury. I want to treat it before it’s an injury.”
As the official health care provider for the World Champions Centre, doctors from Houston Methodist Orthopedics & Sports Medicine are able to help Boorman do just that.
Scott Rand, M.D., Boorman’s longtime friend and Biles’ primary care sports medicine specialist at Houston Methodist said her rigorous and physically demanding regimen keeps him up at night.
“Gymnasts put their bodies through an incredible number of things that normal humans just can’t do,” Rand said. “Like everybody, I worry about her tripping, falling, hurting something or having some other injury that will limit her ability to go and conquer the world like she has in the last three years.”
Rand has treated the USA Gymnastics Team since 2001 and understands how the sport affects the body. When Biles came to him three years ago for a bone spur in her right ankle, he turned to his colleague Travis Hanson, M.D., chief of orthopedic surgery at Houston Methodist Willowbrook Hospital, to perform a minimally invasive procedure that remedied the issue and allowed Biles to get back to her training within three weeks.
“The idea of taking three weeks off doesn’t exist in her world and it never has,” Rand said. “If someone just does this recreationally, it’s not a big deal for them to take time out of the gym and not do things to allow an injury to heal. That’s not really acceptable when you’re taking care of somebody at this level. It’s their job. They don’t have that luxury.”
With the high-pressure nature of competitive gymnastics, it’s important to treat the mind as well as the body. Despite her beaming smile and confident personality, Biles has faced mental challenges throughout her career. She faltered at the 2013 U.S. Secret Classic, slipping from the uneven bars, missing her landing during her floor exercise and losing her footing on the balance beam. The pressure and stress culminated in mental blocks that affected her performance.
“When she starts overthinking, she reacts with her body,” Boorman said. Biles said she often suffered from
doubt and uncertainty a few weeks before a major competition and the internal anxieties spilled into her training. But thanks to sports psychologist Robert Andrews, director of The Institute of Sports Performance, Biles was able to overcome her nerves by readjusting her mental approach.
“Whenever we make a mistake, we get really upset at ourselves,” Biles explained. “Some of us think that we failed people or the crowd, but honestly, you just have to remember that they’re here to see you do what you love. I think that’s what we forget at times.”
The key to Biles’ success is finding the balance between body and mind and, ultimately, having fun.
“I think none of us would be at this point in our careers if we didn’t enjoy and love what we do,” Biles said. “Even when there are tears involved, we can still look back at it and everything we’ve accomplished. We can really say we truly love the sport and that’s why we do it.”