RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil, Wednesday August 17, 2016 – Even before this year’s Olympics, Simone Biles had already catapulted onto cereal boxes on the strength of her 14 world championship medals, the most ever for an American female gymnast. But the Rio games have lifted her into something like Olympic immortality – and perhaps elevated the profile of Belize, where Biles has dual citizenship.
After Biles took home gold for the United States in the individual all-around gymnastics final last Thursday, the Belizean national board of tourism tweeted their congratulations, inviting her and the four other members of the U.S. female gymnastics team to vacation there. And Biles accepted.
— Belize Tourism Board (@belizevacation) August 12, 2016
my second home, you betta belize we're coming ❤️? https://t.co/V1KxiyaLGD
— Simone Biles (@Simone_Biles) August 12, 2016
Others also offered freebies.
— San Ignacio Resort (@LuxuryResortBZ) August 12, 2016
— Villa Verano Belize (@VillaVerano) August 12, 2016
Born in Columbus, Ohio, Biles grew up in a Houston suburb, where she was adopted by her maternal grandfather and his second wife, Nellie – daughter of a prominent Belize City family – while her biological mother struggled with addictions to drugs and alcohol. The gymnast regards her grandparents as her parents, and has taken up Nellie’s origins as her own.
“We’re trying to put Belize on the map as much as we can,” Nellie told The New York Times. “Simone is competing for the U.S., and we’re not taking any credit away from that. But the fact that she has dual citizenship, I don’t see why we cannot celebrate her second country also.”
Nellie’s mother, Evarista Cayetano, was a teacher and grocery store owner. Her father Silas began as a teacher as well, before rising through the ranks of the Belizean civil service, culminating in his election to senator in 1985, according to an obituary.
Some Belizeans are taking Simone’s success as a credit to their own country.
“We are taking all the gold medals she is going to win,” Kim Simplis Barrow, the first lady of the tiny Central American country, joked with the Times.
Last Wednesday, Belize’s widest-circulating paper ran an item informing readers that “young Belizean fans, especially females, will be thrilled to learn that the star of the USA gymnastic team at the Olympics in Rio, Simone Biles, has embraced her Belizean roots,” referring to an NBC interview published earlier this year.
Read more here