Simone Biles and the power of perseverance

NRF 2023: How the athlete and advocate digs deep and moves through adversity
Peter Johnston
NRF Contributor
January 17, 2023

A near-capacity crowd assembled early Monday morning at NRF 2023: Retail’s Big Show to hear “Power. Perseverance. Passion,” a conversation with decorated athlete and advocate Simone Biles. Joining her was Martine Reardon, NRF chief marketing officer and executive vice president of content and retail strategy.

Reardon began by noting that Biles was bringing a unique perspective to the stage. “There have always been parallels between sports and retail, and you illustrate that beautifully,” Reardon said. “How do you yourself draw those parallels?”

“I think that my childhood, being an athlete and having to go through certain tribulations, taught me never to give up. Sometimes, when you’re faced with a decision and you’re the only one standing there who believes in you and who understands what you have to do, you have to really dig deep and remember who you are and what you stand for, and I think that applies to both an athlete and a businesswoman,” Biles said.

NRF 2023

Did you miss us in NYC? Take a look at our NRF 2023: Retail's Big Show event recap.

“I’m new to the business world, but it’s always what I wanted to do. I always wanted a big career, I wanted more than gymnastics. What do you do when you reach your dream at 19?”

In gymnastics just as in business, Reardon noted, people have to set goals for themselves. How can they apply that ability outside the gym?

In response, Biles told of her mother’s habit of summoning Biles and her sibling to a meeting at the beginning of each new year, at which they were to articulate — and write down — their long-term and short-term goals for the year.

“I dreaded it at first, but as I got older it occurred to me that I might not be able to accomplish these things, and that failure might be an option,” she said.

“That kind of changed the perspective, and I’d think, OK, here’s Plan A, and if that doesn’t work there’s Plan B, and if that doesn’t work, then so forth through the rest of the alphabet. So, I never thought of failure as something specific that tells you, OK, that’s not going to happen. It’s just a question of how you go about gauging your success.”

"Everybody’s path to success is not straight, and everybody’s going to have hardships, but I think what matters is the way you go about it."

Simone Biles, decorated athlete and advocate

It was, she said, more a matter of deciding on specific goals and the steps she would need to take to achieve them. “And that helped me keep an eye on what I was trying to accomplish that year, and so those interim goals didn’t seem so far away.”

“Let’s talk about perseverance,” said Reardon. “Whether it’s an athlete working toward the Olympics or a business leader dealing with business trends, perseverance is needed. I think it’s fair to say that you persevere. How do you push through hardship when others would just accept defeat?”

“I was kind of a persistent kid,” Biles said. “If somebody told me I couldn’t do something, it was up to me to prove I could. I think that’s carried on throughout my career. I’ve had ups and downs, but … I think I’m very optimistic. I think that everything happens for a reason, even if you don’t know what the reason is. Everybody’s path to success is not straight, and everybody’s going to have hardships, but I think what matters is the way you go about it.”

Related content

Now Open for Bookings - NRF 2024: Retail’s Big Show Asia Pacific
default image
NRF 2024: Retail’s Big Show Asia Pacific, is now open for sales and sponsorship opportunities.
Read more
Insights from Claire’s on connecting with younger consumers
Big Show Doneger Tobe Claires
NRF 2023: Understanding the challenges and opportunities presented by Generations Z and A.
Read more
Modern leadership and business culture lessons from Walmart’s John Furner
John Furner and Bill Thorne during RGR
Retail Gets Real Episode 300: The NRF Chairman discusses his remarkable career journey.
Read more