Simon Byles is one of the women of the year TODAY USA, a recognition of women across the country who have made a significant impact. The annual program is a continuation Women of the Century, a 2020 project dedicated to the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage. Meet this year’s winners

As a child, Simone Byles attached a pen to paper to track her goals, dreams and aspirations. She continued this practice until last year’s Olympic Games. Write it down. Visualize this. Show it.

The 25-year-old Byles, the most experienced gymnast of all time, became famous not only for her physical strength and athleticism. When she refused to participate in some events during the Tokyo Olympics because of the fight against mental health, she faced ridicule and condemnation from those who were not in her place.

Instead of retreating, Byles took shoes with a 4-foot 8-inch frame to send a huge message to women around the world: Being vulnerable is okay. It’s normal to feel emotionally exhausted. It’s okay to put yourself first.

“Honestly, last year was crazy,” she said. “But I think putting mental health at the forefront was a huge thing. Honestly, at the time I didn’t realize what impact it would have. A couple of months later I admitted everything that happened. But it still blows me to know that “We haven’t talked about it as much as we do now, and we don’t talk about it openly, and people don’t take it as a trauma. So I’m happy that we had this conversation and now we can talk about it.”

Byles admits that it was difficult on social media, but she knows that she helped a woman in Kansas, a woman in Michigan, a woman in Florida, a woman in California and a woman in New York – along with vague others. Raising those who feel connected to her as a gymnast was a pleasure; the rise of those who need a voice – the roar of a champion – has changed lives.

“Apart from the internet, I actually had a lot of people telling me how much I did,” she said. “And they thank me for my efforts, because before that they only ever said, ‘Congratulations and thank you for gymnastics.’ But now that mental health is a big topic that we talk about mostly daily, they always say to me, “Thank you so much. You’ve done so much for me and my family, my friends. Now I’m” I’m going to go for help. So it really means a lot to me that now a lot of people are trying to get the help they not only deserve, but also need. ”

Byles, who took a year off from the mat and beam, enters the World Champions Center near Houston, welcoming the little ones and girls who aspire to be like her. She talks to staff, coaches and parents. She hugs novice competitors and encourages them. Beals serves as a coach, teacher and sister.

Byles, who takes care of Jonathan Owens’ Houston technicians, also needs personal time. She wants to plan her wedding. She wants to be the best daughter, friend and brother. She is looking forward to Sunday evenings with her family. She remains a gymnast, an Olympian and a fierce competitor. Young, strong and focused, Byles continues to record these goals, dreams and aspirations. The list is endless.

“Technically, if you asked someone in the U.S. who looks at an American gymnast, I’m probably out of date, but I really feel like I’m getting to Tokyo, I’ve reached my heyday,” she said. “In fact, I thought that in 2016, at the age of 19, I reached a peak. And every time I went back to sports, I thought I wouldn’t get even better than I was because someone told me it was the best thing I was going to get. You just have to banish those negative views and keep insisting. I want to see what I am capable of, how talented I can be. And so I came back not to regret looking back 10 years ago. So now I can really say I’m not sorry, but maybe I can push a little more to see. “

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

The impact of Simona Byles on mental health continues to be reflected

Olympic gymnast Simon Byles withdrew from the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. She had no idea what impact this decision would have on the mental health conversation.


Who are your role models?

I feel like I have a lot and I feel like it’s different in the world of sports or in my personal world. But I feel that my main role model will be my mom. I hope to be half the person she is. She is very strong in spirit, sure. She stands her ground. She is a wonderful entrepreneur. And I just think it’s very important for me to admit that because of everything she’s done, not just for me, but for the rest of my siblings. Here’s what mom should do.

But I feel like she really went above all to put us all first and so we could do what we love. For me, it’s gymnastics, it’s an expression in the world and makes me the best woman.

What do you think is the role of women in change and progress in society?

Aside from our voices, we are always moving forward, and I think that’s very important, not only for us to realize how women are, but also for children to see that women can do everything men can do. But overall, I think our votes are very important.

You spend a lot of time with women and support women.  How do we force ourselves to make sure we do it as much as we need to?

I think it comes from within, or at least I really believe it. But I feel that every woman can give the world something special. And as long as we open up and do it, we do our part as best we can.

USA TODAY Women of the Year Award Simon Byles poses for a portrait at the Gymnastics Training Center of the World Champions Center on Tuesday, March 8, 2022.
Jarrad Henderson, USA TODAY
I’m sure you’re getting tired physically.  How to break through, how to deal with adversity?

Both in sports and outside it is always necessary to think about the positive. It seems to me that since childhood I have always seen a glass half full and not half empty. And that’s what has always supported me, even in those really tough days to move forward.

I always had a list of goals that my mom made me write down short-term and long-term goals. And it always made me remember why I was doing what I was doing at the time.

What is your definition of courage?

I think it would be faith in yourself, and whatever you do, you stand your ground. For me, I was always very open, and I always tried to stay true to myself between fame, gymnastics, awards, whatever it was. But I have always firmly believed that you need to stand on your own. And if I ever think about something, I go after it, without changing myself, having the courage to express myself, to express myself, even if you are the only one doing it. Because it can be very difficult, especially on social media nowadays.

Simona Byles
I have always firmly believed that you need to stand on your own. And if I ever think about something, I go after it, without changing myself, having the courage to speak, to speak, even if you’re the only one doing it.

You are so strong physically, emotionally.  What advice would you give to girls who dream of becoming a gymnast?  Or girls who don’t go to the gym but still need that guide?

I would say find your passion, because once you find the passion, then everything falls into place. No matter what it’s school, athletics, whatever it is, make sure you have something outside of your realm that makes you happy, keeps you going, and that’s your passion.

Show inspirational lessons from Women of the Year USA TODAY

The premiere of the special show “Women of the Year” from USA TODAY will take place on March 29 on USA TODAY channels on YouTube and Facebook, as well as on USA TODAY, available on most smart TVs and devices.


Do you want to be a mom?

I want to be a mom one day. I think the kids would be awesome. I think it’s one of the most amazing feelings in the world that I’ve heard, but I realize it’s getting work done and it’s hard. And I work a lot, but I don’t think it’s going to be a problem because I can take a vacation. One day soon.

National columnist / deputy editor-in-chief Suzette Hackney is a member of USA TODAY’S Editing. Contact her at or on Twitter: @suzyscribe

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