There is no such thing as perfection in any sport, but this sixteen year old Virginia native came pretty close during the 2012 Olympics in London. While the press swarms around the first African American gymnast to win gold in both the all around individual and team competitions, one can't help but wonder, what is going through Gabrielle Douglas' mind? One thing is for certain, her personal story is the measure of her strength, not her faults; and while we cannot control those with narrow minds who will knit pick about things like her hair or where her family came from; we can control how she is portrayed in history. She is Gabby Douglas because she came from a struggle, not because things were handed to her on a silver platter. Her talent was God given,but she worked hard to achieve what she has achieved.
Although she faltered on the last two apparatus', it is undeniable that her first two competitions in this year's Olympic games were nothing short of phenomenal. Dubbed the flying squirrel by team coordinator, Martha Karolyi for the way she soars through the air on the uneven bars, Douglas was able to measure up and exceed what most expected of her upon entering the Olympics almost last minute. The sweat and tears she put into this moment is beyond commendable, so here we will paint a portrait of young Ms. Douglas' resilience and how she came to dominate the world's gymnastics stage.
Gabrielle was born and raised up to the age of fourteen in West Virginia Beach, Virginia with her sister and motivator Arielle Douglas, two other siblings; and parents, Timothy and Nalalie Douglas. Her parents are divorced and her father is currently stationed in Afghanistan (How many heroes can one family have?!). Her mother recalls that at a very young age she was extremely competitive with her siblings, but she wasn't just competitive she was also talented. For instance, Gabrielle's sister, Arielle, taught her how to do a cartwheel at the age of two, and by the age of four she had perfected a one handed cartwheel. If this isn't enough of a sign of her natural born talent, two years later, after much convincing and begging, Gabby was enrolled in her first formal gymnastics class. She instantly soared up the ranks, and by age eight she won the Virginia State Championships. She continued competing in Virginia and gained more and more support and respect from her friends, family and coaches. She was now at a point in her life where she decided that she could become an Olympian, even if the odds were stacked up against her. There was some gymnastics drama between the coaches during this period all the way up until the Olympics, as her former coach Dena Walker was quoted saying in early 2012 that, “(she) could have made it to the Olympics had she stayed in Virginia.” Regardless of the decision she made, she obviously made the right one. She met Chow through Mrs. Walker at a competition and Douglas recalls having an epiphany moment,"Something clicked in my head that said, if I really want to make this happen I need to get better coaching."The mounting expenses of training and separation from her daughter was a lot to intake, but after much convincing Natalie Doughlas, once again, agreed to have her daughter sent to West Des Moines, Iowa. Her mother was not the only skeptical one though, Chow was quoted saying, “I would never recruit anybody to my program,” Gabby too had to prove her skills to him; and once she did, well, she was recognized very quickly. Douglas knew that she had to step far, far away from her comfort zone to attain her life ambition, and at a young age this is more than just admirable and commendable. The life decision that she made to move to Iowa has bettered her family's life ten fold, and she hasn't even spent two decades on this earth yet.
Upon moving to Iowa she was introduced to her first host family, which for undisclosed reasons did not work out. However the next family, Travis and Missy Parton opened their doors to Douglas with open arms. Douglas considers herself an older sister and mentor to their young four children. One of the Parton children actually train in Chow's gym as well. Between the support of her family and host family, and training in one of the most renowned facilities in the United States with one of the most renowned gymnastics trainer's in the world, Douglas was surely setting herself up for success.
2010 was Douglas' breakout year, with her first national debut and great results in many of her competitions. There were four main competitions she participated in that year, and with each competition under her belt, she only got better and more comfortable on the stage. Her national debut was at the 2010 Nastia Luikin Supergirl Cup, where she placed fourth in the all around competition. Next she participated in the Cover Girl Classic Competition held in Chicago Illinois, which was arguably her worst performance in a national competition, where she placed third on balance beam, sixth in vault and ninth in the all around. However she bounced back in the next competition, which happened to be the US Junior National Championships where she placed second on the balance beam and fourth in the all around. Her last competition in 2010 was the Pan American Championships, and little Ms. Douglas nailed a gold in uneven bars and fifth in the all around, ending her first year in national competition with a team gold medal. In 2011 Douglas helped her US squad win gold with a 14.733 on uneven bars at the World Artistic Gymnastics in Tokyo Japan (Jordyn Weiber, Aly Raisman and McKayla Marone were also on this team.) The next milestone competition did not come until the 2012 Olympic Trials in San Jose California, where after all of her hard work she was selected for the 2012 Olympic Gymnastics team by the slimmest of margins. The rest is, literally history.
This young girl, will with no doubt be a role model for generations to come in the sport of gymnastics. She set a milestone for not only the African American community, the gymnastics community but for her country. From the press stations such as Fox News saying she has an “anti American” quality to her own community criticizing her hair, will you do us all a favor, shut up and savor this moment in American history! Gabrielle Douglas is arguably the most accomplished gymnast in American history and will go down in the record books for years to come.