Photo Credit: Ronald Martinez, Getty Images
After Thursday's NBC's primetime Olympic coverage, 16-year-old Gabby Douglas will likely be a household name. The gymnast nicknamed "the flying squirrel" for how high she soars off the uneven bars and the balance beam won the coveted Olympic all-around final, becoming the first African American to win the all-around gold at an Olympics and the first U.S. gymnast to win the team and all-around golds in the same Olympic games.
“I feel like I am in a dream,” said Gabby’s mom, Natalie Hawkins, in an interview with iVillage just hours after her daughter stood at the top of the medals platform. “She won that medal and I literally lost it more than when I lost it for the team finals because I realized that she did it. Everything paid off, every sacrifice, every piece of hard work that she put in, the decisions that I had made concerning her career, whether it was the right one, whether it was the wrong one, every question that I had was answered tonight.”
Hawkins told me just a few days ago one of the hardest decisions of her life was agreeing to Gabby’s wish and letting her move to Des Moines, Iowa nearly two years ago to train with Liang Chow, who coached Shawn Johnson to Olympic gold and silver success. The decision was made all the easier when Missy and Travis Parton and their four young girls took Gabby in and became her “host” family.
“I couldn’t have done it without the Parton family,” Hawkins said as she and Missy shared some celebratory champagne inside the P&G Salon at the family home for athletes and their families. “It would not have been possible. There are so many things that they did for us, literally turning their lives upside down to accommodate her career and all the things that went with it and I will never, I am not gonna cry,” Hawkins said, holding back the tears. “I will never, ever, ever be able to thank them enough, ever. There’s nothing I can do, there’s nothing I can buy.”
“It’s a true privilege and honor to be a part of her life and to be a part of this journey, and we just love her and who she is,” said Parton. “We’re just so thrilled that we could be here and that we could be a part of it, and that she could look up at us and see us all sitting there and the smile on her face when she saw us … it was priceless.”
iVillage president Jodi Kahn was inside the arena and said the crowd grew quiet after the last competitor, Russia's Victoria Komova, who was in second place behind Douglas, gave a floor exercise performance of her life. Would her score be high enough to put her in the lead? The answer was no. Kumova burst into tears while the Americans in the crowd erupted and cheered "USA, USA,” said Kahn. Douglas smiled and waved to the crowd. As I watched from the P&G Family Home with family members of Team USA, I had tears in my eyes knowing we were watching history unfold, and thinking about how many young girls Gabby will inspire in the U.S. and around the world.
“We’ve always thought about that and she’s embraced that,” said Hawkins. “It wasn’t easy at first to look at herself as a role model because it was just, she kind of had this, ‘Why me, I mean who am I, I am nothing really special, why look up to me, why does everybody want my autograph,” Hawkins said. “I told her because you have a quality about yourself that makes you so endearing and people can truly relate to you, they can relate to your sacrifice, they can relate to your struggle … and I said, embrace it, it’s a gift you’ve been given and own.”
“Now as I see her wearing that gold around her neck, I just think of the many girls who could be motivated and that brings me such great joy and such pride, because it’s not every day you break through race barriers and she’s done that,” the single mom of four said.
Next steps for Team Gabby include planning a truly big celebration after the Olympics when both families can be together for a victory party. It also sounds like plans for some sort of a foundation to help and inspire kids.
But before all of that, there’s still some more competition ahead. Gabby competes in the individual events for the uneven bars and the balance beam early next week. And she had better get used to her new star status in the USA, which begins with a Today Show appearance on Friday.
As her aunt joked, America should get ready for a gal who’s got a personality to carry her through. “People, I feel like they’ve only seen a glimpse of her and now they’re really going to get her full on and I don’t know if people are going to be able to handle it,” Bianca Williams, Gabby's aunt, said with a laugh. “Get ready.”
Kelly Wallace is chief correspondent of iVillage and is in London covering the 2012 Summer Olympics. You can read all of her daily live blogs here and follow her Olympic tweets on Twitter (@kellywallacetv).
The cost of Kelly's transportation to London was paid by Procter and Gamble.