The Bookworm

“Courage to Soar: A Body in Motion, A Life in Balance” by Simone Biles with Michelle Burford, foreword by Mary Lou Retton (Zondervan), 251 pages, $24.99

It took a leap of faith.

A new job, a big move, a new skill, a major purchase, a ring on your finger and “I Do.”

Even if you knew you were on the right path and you could handle whatever came next, you still felt like you were stepping off into the unknown. It definitely took a leap of faith but, as in the new book “Courage to Soar” by Simone Biles (with Michelle Burford), sometimes, you just have to close your eyes and jump.

It all began with a rainy-day field trip to a Houston gymnasium.

Biles was 6 years old then, but she’d already endured more than many adults. She and her siblings were born in Ohio to a mother who was unable to care for them, so the children circled between foster homes, grandparents and mother.

Finally, it was decided the younger two would be adopted by their grandparents and would stay in Texas, which turned out to be a fortuitous decision: There was a trampoline at their Texas home, and Biles could hardly stay off it.

Always an active child (and later diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder), Biles was a tiny tornado on that first day in the gym. She flipped and ran and tumbled until she caught the eye of a trainer who invited her and her younger sister to classes. It turned out to be “the perfect outlet” for a “little bouncing bean” like Biles.

In short order, she worked her way up the various levels of training with her eyes on winning more and bigger. She was “a dork” at school and sometimes a “brat” but always a star on the mat and she knew she wanted to “go the farthest I can,” even if a dream of a gymnastics career meant giving up a dream of “normal” high school and being on a NCAA team.

Her parents helped her find the best coaches. They even built a gymnasium for her and her team. And after achieving the goal of landing a spot on the junior national team, Biles then “quietly asked God to please help me do everything I could to be part of the 2016 Olympics team.”

Out of my chair. That’s where I was last summer when Biles nailed that floor routine at Rio. But in my chair is where this book kept me this week because I really couldn’t put “Courage to Soar” down.

Fans who notice that Biles is bubbly-but-focused will be happy to know that’s how her biography reads, and it’s a delight. What’s also refreshing is that it’s not boastful athletic chest-thumping. There is some teenage-angst drama here, but mixed with the pressure of competition, it’s not a distraction. Instead, it and the pure joy inside both serve to enhance the book’s appeal. This is a story you can share with anyone; in fact, when you’ve finished “Courage to Soar,” you’ll probably want to. A book like this, you’ll fall head-over-heels for.

Terri Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was 3, and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.

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