Biles is a dual citizen of the US and Belize
Her mother, Nellie Biles, is from Belize City
Biles has called Belize her "second home"
Simone Biles has won the hearts of Americans with her routines jam-packed with difficulty, winning gold medals in the team final, all-around, vault and floor exercise, while also earning bronze on balance beam despite a fall.
But she’s not just beloved in the United States. She’s also got a fan base in Belize.
That’s right. Belize, a country with roughly 350,000 people that didn’t gain its independence until 1981.
It initially sounds like a head-scratcher, as there aren’t any outward signs showing any celebration of Biles in Belize City. But on Tuesday afternoon, relatives – as well as Kim Simplis Barrow, the first lady of Belize – gathered at the Radisson Fort George Hotel and Marina in Belize City to watch Biles win gold in her final event, floor. It’s the second time the group met at the hotel to watch arguably the best female gymnast of all time.
Biles – who is a dual citizen of Belize through her mother, Nellie Cayetano Biles – is the most-decorated US women’s gymnast in a single Olympic Games. After winning floor on Tuesday, Biles finished her Olympics with four golds – setting the US mark for most gold medals in women’s gymnastics at a single Olympics. Aly Raisman (who took silver Tuesday afternoon) and Gabby Douglas, who both competed in London in 2012 as members of the Fierce Five, each won two golds in 2012 and were part of the Final Five team gold medal in Rio. However, those two needed London and Rio to get to three golds. Biles has needed a little more than a week to get four.
“I think that most things about Belize are kept quiet,” said Opal Enriquez, one of Biles’ cousins. “We are the best-kept secret. For Simone to shine a light on Belize, I think it’s meaningful because it’s such a huge part of our family history and the foundation of who we are, and we are excited that this is being used as a platform to showcase other talent in Belize.”
Nellie Biles grew up in Belize City before moving to the US at age 18 in 1973. Her mother, Evarista Cayetano, owned a grocery store and was a teacher, while her father, Silas Cayetano, also was a teacher and became a senator. Nellie met Ron Biles in 1976; they married in 1977.
Simone Biles, meanwhile, was born in Columbus, Ohio. Her father had abandoned the family, and Biles’ biological mother struggled with drug and alcohol abuse. A young Simone and her sister, Adria, ended up in foster care.
Then Ron and Nellie stepped in. Ron is the maternal grandfather of Simone and Adria, while Nellie is Ron’s second wife and not Simone and Adria’s maternal grandmother. The couple brought Simone and Adria to Spring, Texas, and later adopted them.
After the adoption was official, Nellie Biles said to the girls, “It’s up to you guys, but you can call us mom and dad if you want.”
The next day Simone asked, “Grandma, can I call you Mom?”
“Of course,” Nellie said.
In a way, it’s reminiscent of Nellie’s childhood, according to Enriquez. The Cayetano family helped raise Enriquez and her eight siblings.
Enriquez calls Silas Cayetano the only father she knows.
“For Nellie to step up and embrace the responsibility of being Simone’s mother… the family values of caring for each other is all we know, and it’s because of him.”
Belize a ‘second home’ for Biles
Simone now had a mom and dad. What followed was the blossoming of a gymnastics prodigy.
In 2003, a 6-year-old Biles was on a daycare field trip at a gym and was seen imitating other gymnasts. The gym sent home a letter to Biles’ family requesting she join tumbling or gymnastics.
It was a good recommendation. Today, Biles is the best in the world. And on Tuesday, members of her family – and the rest of the world – watched Biles compete in her favorite event. It’s on floor where she showcases her signature move, the “Biles,” which is a double layout with a half twist.
Belize, which competed as British Honduras in its Olympic debut in Mexico City in 1968, is represented by three athletes in Rio: Brandon Jones and Katy Sealy for track and field, and Renick James in judo. The country has never won an Olympic medal.
So after Biles won the all-around competition in dominating fashion, the Belize Tourism Board tweeted out an invitation to her and the rest of the Final Five: “Congrats @simone_biles! Belize is so proud of you. We’d love to host you and the entire #FinalFive on a vacation once you’re ready to relax.”
Biles responded, “My second home, you betta Belize we’re coming.”
The Biles family has vacationed in Belize often. Biles’ brother got married in Belize last year, a wedding which Simone attended. And that may not be the last wedding Biles attends there.
“Simone said, when she gets married, it’s going to be in Belize,” Nellie Biles said, according to the New York Times.
Elwyn Lopez reported from Belize City. Jill Martin wrote from Atlanta.