Dear Simone Biles,
My daughter would write to you herself, but she’s 5 and still learning the later letters of the alphabet. You are probably only beginning to really grasp what it’s like to be one of the most famous people on the planet. I just wanted to tell you what you mean to one little girl.
Juniper was born at 23 weeks. That’s barely halfway through a pregnancy. She weighed just more than a pound and spent 196 days in a neonatal intensive care unit. She wasn’t expected to live or walk. She was the tiniest person I have ever seen, and the strongest. She hung on, even though she couldn’t see because her eyes were fused shut.
Even though it was months until she experienced anything but needle sticks and isolation and pain, something inside her made her fight for a life she could not envision. She taught me many things, but the first was who she was at her raw core.
She started gymnastics at 2, because like you, she just could never hold still. She has some kind of crazy preemie upper body strength and a preschooler’s lack of coordination. She walks on her hands. She launches herself off of every surface she can reach. She flies; she falls; she bounces up; she laughs; she does it again.
“Watch,” she says. “You might be mad, but this might be amazing.”
She is tiny, and at her age that really matters. “When will I be big?” she asks in her small voice. The truth is that the doctors say she’ll always be tiny. They say she won’t reach 5 feet.
Juniper’s first day of preschool, 2014
I’ve seen kids at school call her a baby and tell her she is too little to play with them. She tries to be brave. One day, she somehow climbed to the top of the tree on the playground. She looked down at the bigger kids, some a whole foot taller.
“You can climb like this,” she said, “when you’re big like me.”
I was proud of her that day, but her boldness doesn’t hold. Some nights she cries because she wants to be big.
When we found you on YouTube several months ago, something shifted. She started to see herself in a new way.
“Is Simone Biles little like me?” Juniper asked.
“Yes,” I said. “She’s just like you.”
“She is better than me at gymnastics,” she said. And then she thought about it. “That is okay.”
Every night, we’ve been watching videos of “The Best Girl in The World.” We talk about hard work and practice and confidence and strength. Now I let her stay up to watch you in the Olympics. When you nailed your floor routine and clinched the gold medal, Juniper rocketed off of the couch and screamed.
You have helped her counter one of the most powerful forces on earth: the judgment of other girls. You’ve helped her see what is possible. You have helped her remember how strong she is, at her core.
On the screen, the camera tightened on your smile.
“She is looking at me,” Juniper said. “Does she see me?”
I didn’t have the heart to tell her it was just TV.
She drew a picture of you. I guess she thinks I can just hand it to you, through the screen.
Here it is, with all our love and thanks.