American gymnast Simone Biles, who will make her Vogue cover debut with an incredibly powerful photo for the magazine's August 2020 issue, has opened up about coming to terms about her abuse by a USA Gymnastics doctor.
Speaking to Vogue, the gold medallist Olympian revealed the difficult process she endured after finding out about Larry Nassar, who is now in prison for life after being found guilty for sexually abusing other young female athletes.
Biles, who has been hailed as the best gymnast in the world as she has not lost a meet since 2013, said she wasn't ready to process her own abuse when the story about Nassar broke three weeks after the 2016 Rio Olympics ended.
"It didn't feel like real life," she told Vogue.
"And there were little things that I did that I didn't know why, but I felt like I was just trying to protect myself.
"Just, like, little quirks. Like I remember on tour, I would have really bad anxiety about nothing. Or like, walking down a hall, I feared that somebody was following me.
"I just had a lot of issues that were unexplained until I finally figured out why. The dots connected."
After her Olympic tour and while she competed on Dancing With the Stars, more developments on Nassar's abuse came to light.
In late 2016, he was arrested on child-pornography charges and in February the following year, three former Team USA gymnasts went on 60 Minutes and described the abuse Nassar had inflicted on them and how he passed it off as legitimate care.
However, Biles made the topic off-limits at her home and would "shut down" when her parents questioned her.
Biles said she would get "very angry" and would deny she was abused.
Biles mother added: "Her reaction was awful. Scream and walk out the door and not want to discuss it."
When the gymnast moved out from her parents' home and started her adult life in a condo, Biles said fell into depression.
"At one point I slept so much because, for me, it was the closest thing to death without harming myself. It was an escape from all of my thoughts, from the world, from what I was dealing with. It was a really dark time," she said.
Biles would have been treated by Nassar between 2012 and 2015, starting at the age of 15.
The gymnast said she started coming to terms with her own abuse in early June 2018 after a friend and former member of the national team, Maggie Nichols, told her story to the media.
Until that point, Biles hadn't considered her experience to be abuse, as she thought her experience was not as bad as others.
"But I was reading Maggie's coverage and it just hit me," Biles said.
"I was like, I've had the same treatments. I remember googling, like, sexually abused. Because I know some girls had it worse than me. I know that for a fact. So I felt like I wasn't abused, because it wasn't to the same extent as the other girls.
"Some of my friends had it really, really bad. They were his favourite. Since mine wasn't to that capacity, I felt like it didn't happen."
Biles added that she there may have been another reason for the mental block, revealing she thought she had to been seen as perfect and America's sweetheart.
"I felt like I knew, I just didn't want to admit it to myself, that it had happened," she said.
"Every time an American wins the Olympics, you're like America's sweetheart. So it's like, How could this happen to America's sweetheart?
"That's how I felt — like I was letting other people down by this."
The day before Nassar's survivors gave victim-impact statements in court, Biles posted her own statement on social media, on January 15, 2018.
"Most of you know me as a happy, giggly, and energetic girl," she began.
"But lately I've felt a bit broken and the more I try to shut off the voice in my head the louder it screams."
Biles, too, had been sexually abused by Nassar: "Please believe me when I say it was a lot harder to first speak those words out loud than it is now to put them on paper."
She added: "It is impossibly difficult to relive these experiences, and it breaks my heart even more to think that as I work towards my dream of competing in Tokyo 2020, I will have to continually return to the same training facility where I was abused."
When the 2020 Tokyo Olympics were postponed because of the Covid-19 pandemic, Biles took the news very hard.
Her mother, Nellie, told Vogue how Biles reacted to the news.
"I spoke to my daughter, and she was just crying," she told me.
"And angry. And yelling. She was so distraught. Her emotions were all over the place because she did not know how she was supposed to feel."
Her mother said it seemed like Biles was going through the stages of grief.
"The loss is like she got a divorce or someone died, and she lost that person. That's how deep I believe the loss was."
Biles said she worked through most of her emotions about the postponement, but remained disappointed.
"I felt kind of torn and broken," she said.
"Obviously it was the right decision, but to have it finalised — in a way, you feel defeated because you've worked so hard."
She said that her reaction of the postponement was wrapped up in Nassar's abuse and that she was overcome by her emotions one day at practice.
"We were gripping at the bars, and I just started crying," she said. "Another year of dealing with USAG. That, I don't know if I can take."
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