America has a new Olympic hero and her name is Gabby Douglas. The dynamic 16-year-old gymnast made history on Thursday, becoming the first African-American gymnast to win a gold medal for the all-around competition. This victory comes in addition to her gold medal win with Team USA. These high profile wins mean that everyone is now asking about the girl who tumbled her way into America’s heart. Knowing the journey that led Douglas to her Olympic triumph only makes her more endearing to the public.
In an interview with Douglas and her mother, Natalie Hawkins a single mother of four, Hawkins’ discussed what it took for her to raise an Olympian. As the youngest child, Douglas impressed her family with her innate ability to do cartwheels and other “tricks” around the house. However, it was only after pressure from Douglas’ older sister, Arielle, that Hawkins finally put her daughter in a gymnastics class at the age of six; Douglas found her calling and a dream.
While watching the 2008 gymnastics competition at the Beijing Olympics, a 12-year-old Douglas noted the relationship between Olympian Shawn Johnson and her coach, Yiang Chow. She told her mom, "They look like they are having a really good time. I would like for him to maybe be my coach." Douglas was so inspired by Johnson’s performance, she pleaded with her mom to let her meet Chow in order to get the challenge she needed to make her "dream real."
Heeding the words of her of daughter, Hawkins looked up Chow only to discover that his world famous Chow’s Gymnastics and Dance Institute was located thousands of miles of away from their Virginia Beach home, Chow was in Des Moines, Iowa. However, Hawkins realized that the only way for her daughter to get the training she needed to make it to the Olympics would be to send the pre-teen half-way across the country.
For any parent, it’s a difficult decision to send their child away, especially at such a young age. Hawkins made the tough decision to send Douglas to train in Iowa and live with a host family; she wanted her daughter to become the champion she knew she could be. The transition wasn’t easy for mother or daughter. After a visit from her mother and siblings at Christmas, Douglas was hit hard with homesickness and begged to go home. However, Hawkins reminded Douglas what she had sacrificed and why. With that little push from her mom, Douglas was more determined than ever to make it.
The decision to stay and push harder worked. Douglas made it to the Olympic tryouts, earning the nickname "flying squirrel" for her gravity-defying stunts on the uneven bars. The bubbly teen was instantly pitted against her Team USA teammate, the stoic reigning world champion Jordyn Wieber, but Douglas never let the competition faze her. Critics worried that Douglas’ youth and nerves would be her undoing, but night after night, she proved them all wrong. In her sweeping victory in the overall competition –– winning with a score of 62.232 –– Douglas became a real champion with her mother and sister in the stands cheering her on.
With her infectious smile and unforgettable routines, Douglas embodies the true spirit of an Olympian. Through her sacrifice, dedication, and hard work, Douglas made her dream into a reality, yet she remains humble about her all her accomplishments. For Douglas, the opportunity to compete was a way for her to inspire other young gymnasts like herself. She might be America’s biggest Olympic sensation, but at her core, she’s just happy to have the chance to do what she loves.