Champion gymnast Gabby Douglas made history, but is quick to show where her gratitude lies
At just 16 years old, with the world watching, Gabrielle ‘Gabby’ Douglas made history at the London 2012 Olympics as the first African American to win an individual all-around gold medal.
Her achievement also made her only the fourth American woman ever to win an individual all-around gold medal, and as USA took the team all-around gold, she became the first American woman to take both titles.
Her talent and eye-catching leaps and turns have seen her receive the nickname, ‘the flying squirrel’. Her achievements have meant interviews, endorsements and appearances on cereal boxes. Yet, the teen, who moved cities at age 14 to be coached by renowned gymnast Shawn Johnson’s coach, Liang Chow, is just as famous for her outspoken determination to thank God for her achievements.
In an interview post-victory, Gabby said, “It is everything I thought it would be; being the Olympic champion, it definitely is an amazing feeling. And I give all the glory to God. It’s kind of a win-win situation. The glory goes up to Him and the blessings fall down on me.”
Not to say Gabby’s life since, or before, winning has been a fairytale. Straight after winning her individual gold, social media users brought the world’s attention to something else — her hair. Criticised for her slicked back bun, held with gel, hair clips and a hair tie (the same as the rest of the team), Gabby responded to the comments by saying, “Are you kidding me? I just made history? And you're focusing on my hair? I just want to say we're all beautiful inside out. Nothing is going to change.”
Her entrance into the US Olympic team was somewhat unexpected, as some had doubted Gabby’s focus, but she proved the critics wrong as she showed that she was not only Olympics material, but gold medallist material.
She has had to deal with the absence of her father, who left the family when Gabby was young and has been away with the US Army. She also reportedly left her old training gym at her home in Virginia because she was subjected to bullying and racist remarks.
While coaches and fellow gymnasts at Gabby’s old gym, Excalibur, have rejected her claims about racism and bullying, the fact remains that in 2010 she decided to leave to train in Iowa with Chow.
However, this meant leaving her three older siblings and mother and staying with a host family, leading to her feeling lonely and homesick at times. But the determined teenager had decided that she wanted to reach the top, offering her mother an ultimatum: let her go, otherwise she would quit.
Her mother, Natalie Hawkins, and host mother, Missy Parton, featured in a video for Procter and Gamble’s ‘Raising an Olympian’ series, with Natalie stating how much she appreciates the Parton’s role in helping Gabby get to where she is today.
Shortly before leaving for London, Gabby appeared with Missy and her husband Travis at their church in Iowa, Valley Church. Gabby explained the importance of reading her Bible every day, asking her mother to send her scripture portions to read in the morning and at night.
“I love reading about the Word, it really helps me during gymnastics, it’s very important, (if) you are really scared of a skill, you just have to rely on God. He’s not given us a spirit of fear but a spirit of peace, love and sound mind,” Gabby said, referencing 2 Timothy chapter 1, verse 7.
Gabby continued to read the Bible in London, telling American broadcasters CBN upon her return, “My faith has definitely been strong, I was meditating on scriptures every day in London, to build my faith, to stay so focused on what God has for you and all the plans He has for you, so you focus on the positive and you don’t let the negative get to you.”
Gabby also found that prayer helped her in her journey, saying, “If you watch any competition, you zoom up on my face (when) I’m talking and I’m actually praying. I love to pray before a competition, it just gives me so much confidence and it boosts my self-esteem up, it’s something that I’ve always done.”
Gabby has yet to decide on her future plans but is hoping to continue in competition and make the most of her newfound success, with many already enthusing over her bright smile and bubbly attitude.
While Gabby hopes to inspire younger gymnasts, hopefully her gratitude to God will also make her a role model. As she wrote on her twitter account after winning the individual gold, “I am SO grateful God has truly blessed me! Remember to ALWAYS give Him the glory for He is GREAT!”