Book Review: Courage To Soar

Courage To Soar:  A Body In Motion, A Life In Balance, by Simone Biles with Michelle Burford

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by BookLook/Zondervan.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

This book manages to combine two familiar genres that one is not always used to seeing combined.  The first genre, and the most obvious given the book’s cover, is that of the sports memoir, where a successful athlete discourses the course of their life and gives a detailed account of their training and dedication to a sport and their rise to athletic glory [1].  The second genre is the genre of the dysfunctional childhood, or even more specifically, the subgenre of people writing about their childhood in the foster care system [2].  I must admit that I have not paid as much attention to gymnastics over the last few years so I did not know who the author was at all.  I had never heard of her as one of the most decorated gymnasts of all time, nor had I known that she had not lost an all-around competition since 2013, a phenomenal record of achievement.  Even so, I knew enough about the sport that the author’s detailed description of her training regimen and her competitions was at least somewhat interesting, as was her discussions with family members and coaches.  If you like the sport, or happen to know people involved in it at a competitive level, this is a worthwhile book to read.

In terms of its chronology, the book follows the usual conventions.  The book begins in media res at a moment of disappointment where the author just barely missed moving up a level by one spot and had to wait another year to qualify for the Junior National level.  Then the author moves back to her childhood and discusses her time in foster care and the division of her family and her estrangement from her formerly drug-addicted mother and her lack of knowledge or interest about her father.  She talks about being raised by her grandparents and her close relationship with her younger sister, and about how a chance observation of her tumbling led to an opportunity to become a competitive gymnast.  She spends a lot of time talking about the ups and downs of life in competitive gymnastics, including the many hours a day of practice, the constant need to up the difficulty of one’s routines in order to compete, the balance between artistry and technical difficulty that has slanted in that sport (and many others) towards athleticism in recent years, social media disasters, the drama of being an immature teenager, and so on and so forth.  The account is sufficiently detailed but also sufficiently brief (the book looks to be in the 200-300 page range based on what I read in the ebook version) to be generally accessible to readers.

While I found much in the book to celebrate, including the author’s spunky personality, and found a great deal amusing, like her somewhat credulous belief in St. Sebastian and his efficacy as a healer of sports injuries, there are a few areas where this book shows itself worthy of criticism.  The subtitle of this book mistakenly says that this is an account of a life in balance.  It is not.  It is the life of someone who is so dedicated to her sport that she spent her high school being homeschooled and gave up the chance of going to college at 18 or 19 to go pro as long as she can maintain her peak athletic condition, which does not last long for female gymnasts, who are considered old and over the hill in their early twenties.  To be sure, the author seems very appealing in her blunt honesty and the fact that she has obvious interests outside of sports, but her life is not a balanced one by any means.  On a more melancholy note, I cannot help but wonder if this particular volume will be followed by a volume years or even decades in the future where the author writes movingly about the surgeries and the immense and lasting health problems that resulted from her pushing herself so hard as an athlete.  I am glad she is a decorated athlete and can celebrate her accomplishments from a patriotic perspective as well as someone who enjoys competitive sports despite being only modestly possessed of athletic ability.  Yet I cannot help but feel that this will not end well, that there will be hip replacement surgeries and a lifetime of pain in the author’s future because of her commitment to gymnastics, even if I hope that I am wrong in being so pessimistic.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Christianity, History, Sports and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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