Simone Biles’ gymnastics excellence, defined by her power, precision and rare skills, are rivaled closely by her personal courage in raising awareness about mental health issues and how athletic performance can be affected by feelings.
Biles arrived back in Houston on Thursday after participating in the Tokyo Olympics and earning a bronze medal in the balance beam and a silver medal in a team event after being impacted by a combination of difficult mental and physical issues that affected her ability to contort her body and safely gauge her distance from the mat.
Ultimately, Biles withdrew from several events she had qualified for.
How Biles handled a challenging situation with grace and dignity is an incredible source of pride for her biggest fan, her boyfriend: Texans safety Jonathan Owens.
“Very proud,” Owens said after training camp practice Thursday. “Just showing that there is times where you need to put yourself first, especially if it's a danger to your health, if you're going to go out there and kind of perform for everybody else, you know what I mean?
“I was so proud of her that she put herself first because she could have really got herself hurt if she's going out there and kind of don't know where she is in the air and how difficult everything she does. I was really proud of her and glad that she made that decision.”
Owens is looking forward to reuniting with Biles on Thursday as she returns from her trip to Japan. The couple resides in Spring and have been Instagram official since last year.
“I can’t wait to see her,” Owens said. “It’s the longest we’ve been apart. I was so proud of her. I’m just so happy for her that she went out with a medal. It was kind of tough. It was actually the longest that we've been apart since we first started dating and everything.
“I was just making sure I was there being an extra voice for her since she couldn't have family and everything there. Just kind of keeping her positive and keeping her motivated. When things kind of got tough, just being an extra voice for her, making sure everything stays positive.”
Biles now has seven total medals for her career. It wasn’t easy for her to make the decision to withdraw from events, but she did so with understanding and support from loved ones and an international fan base.
“I’m glad she put herself first because she could have gotten herself hurt,” Owens said. “It can be dangerous if you try to perform for everybody else. She loves the team. Those are her friends, and, obviously, she wanted the best for them.
“With her being down, it was a chance for other people to go out there and have a chance of winning gold and doing their best. Obviously, she wanted to support her teammates. They trained together, and you build relationships and, obviously, wanted nothing but the best for them.”
While participating in the Texans’ practices, Owens remained in touch with Biles despite the 14-hour time difference.
“I’m glad I could be an extra voice for her because she couldn’t have family there,” he said. “Trying to keep her positive and keeping her motivated. I tried to catch her when it was morning here and night there before she was sleeping to try to give her motivational speeches when I could and try to keep her head up.
“She was kind of in a funk when everything wasn’t going right. She was used to everything going right for so long, and all of a sudden, she had a hiccup, she could get down on herself and lose confidence. That was one of the things I was trying to make sure that she could stay positive. It was hard for me to really understand what she was going through because I’m not on that stage dealing with that pressure and everything, and I was just trying to motivate her as much as I could.”
Owens empathized deeply with how tough this was on Biles. He could tell from afar what was happening as Biles made her decision to withdraw.
When he realized she was going to withdraw, Owens experienced a sinking feeling.
“I remember it was early in the morning, and my heart was really beating because I could see her face, and I kind of know her facial expressions,” Owens said. “I could kind of read her lips and know what was going on and what she was telling her coach. I kind of already knew what was going on beforehand, so I was just hoping she was going to get over it and be able to go out there and perform. I was sick to my stomach because she wasn’t able to go out there. I know her teammates really wanted her out there, but she made the best decision for herself, so I support whatever she does.
“I would just kind of catch her before she would go to sleep and just try to give her motivational speeches to kind of keep her head up. She was kind of in a funk when everything wasn't going right. When you're used to everything going right for so long and all of a sudden you kind of hit a hiccup in your performance, she can kind of get down on herself and lose confidence. That was kind of one of the things I was just trying to make sure to keep her positive. It was hard for me to really understand what she was going through because I'm not on that stage and dealing with those pressures and everything. But I just tried to be as understanding as possible and just try to motivate her, man, keep her head right.”
Biles received an outpouring of support across the globe by being so open and relatable about her personal situation.
“I loved it,” Owens said. “I'm just glad it was people that understood kind of what she's going through and actually people went and did their research on the gymnast condition that they kind of go through when that happens. I was really glad for people to really give her that support and just keep her spirits up after she made her decision.”
Meanwhile, Owens, a former Missouri Western standout with 4.36 speed in the 40-yard dash is vying for a roster spot for the Texans heading into his fourth year in the NFL. He remains focused on the job at hand while supporting Biles.
“When I get out here, I'm in football mode, man,” he said. “I kind of focus on this. This is my career, you know what I mean? Once I got done, I checked on her seeing how everything was. Kind of when I come out here, though, I try to focus and have tunnel vision on what I have to have going on. If you're not mentally all here when you're out there on that field, you can get yourself hurt. So just kind of try to stay focused and do my job first, and then whenever I get done, go and make sure she's fine.”
Aaron Wilson has covered the NFL for 20 seasons, including the Texans, Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars. He has previously written for The Houston Chronicle and The Baltimore Sun. He’s on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL and Instagram: @aaronwilson7128.