In Newport News, Virginia, on Dec. 31, 1995, Gabby Douglas was born to Natalie Hawkins and Timothy Douglas. At birth, no one knew that she would be a legendary Olympian.
At the age of six, her mother sent her to Excalibur, a gymnastics school, because Douglas’ sister convinced their mother to do so.
In 2004, at 8 years old, she won gold for the fourth level in all-around gymnastics at the Virginia State Championships. However, due to a fractured growth plate of her wrist, she missed the Covergirl U.S. Classic, in 2009.
She did compete at the Visa Championships in Dallas, Texas. Despite her determination, she did not perform her full-length routines. She was only able to complete the balance beam and floor programs.
The Olympian was 14 years old in 2010 when the course of career and life changed for the legend-to-be. First, in Worcester, Massachusetts, she attended the 10th level Nastia Liukin Supergirl Cup. Douglas placed 4th all-around.
The Covergirl Classic in Chicago, Illinois, was her first elite competition. She earned 6th place on the vault, 3rd on the beam, and 9th all-around. This was in the junior division.
Next, were The U.S. Junior National Championships. Douglas improved and won the silver medal on the beam. She tied for 8th on the floor routine and won 4th place on the vault, as well as all-around.
Then, Douglas won the Pan American Championships, hosted by Guadalajara, Mexico. According to Douglas, at Excalibur, run by Gustavo Maure, a girl who was supposed to scrape the uneven bars, questioned the trainers: “Why does Gabby not do it? She is our slave.”
A staff member told Douglas to get a nose job because it was too flat, said Douglas, on how she as treated. Also, other staff members chaffed and harassed her about her appearance.
In another instance, she relays, someone stole her clothes. She asked around about them. However, those she asked just laughed at her.
Excalibur head coach Dena Walker, refuted the slave remark, stating that Douglas was only joking. Walker also stated that the girl always expected fortune to come quicker than it could. The school aided the Douglas family with a $20,000 loan. To this comment, the family shot back that the money was a gift.
Douglas and her siblings; Johnathon, Joyelle, and Arielle, even her mother, wondered about their wandering father. According to the family, when it was time to pay the bills, he would leave. Thus, leaving a single mother of four children with a $45,000 salary, to survive on their own. They were married but divorced some time later.
With all these problems, in October of 2010, Douglas and her family moved to West Des Moines, Iowa. She wished to train with Liang Chow. He coached Shawn Johnson, the 2007 World Champion, and 2008 Summer Olympic gold medalist.
She needed a coach she could believe in. Douglas originally chose a renowned trainer in Texas, but he declined, so she opted for Chow. He did not wish to have her as a student, given that hundreds of girls were presented to him, but eventually he trained her. He did not enroll her in his program, though. During this time, she stayed at the home of Missy and Travis Porton.
The World Artistic Gymnastics Championships was a joyous and somber time. It was 2011, and she helped her team win the gold medal, but her mother was not there to witness it. She called her mother, crying: “I am all alone. I am so alone.”
Douglas’ family, except for her mother’s husband, visited her during Christmas time. She truly felt homesick when they had to leave, but they decided that seeing her family was too much of a distraction. From then on, the Douglas family rarely embraced her.
Some would call the following year, not just a breakout one. Douglas attended the AT&T American Cup at Madison Square Garden and collected the highest total all-around score in women’s competition.
She again aided the U.S. team at the Pacific Rim Championships in winning gold. Douglas too won gold in uneven bars. She went on to win the silver in all-around, bronze on the floor, and gold in uneven bars at the U.S. National Championships. There, Douglas was dubbed the “Flying Squirrel”.
At the Summer Olympics, Douglas, Jordyn Wieber, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman, and Kyla Ross won the team event gold. Therefore, the media gave them the name the “Fierce Five”.
Douglas was the only one who competed in the vault, uneven bars, balance beam, and floor exercise. The Olympian took the gold in individual all-around, and she became the first woman of color to do so. The legend-to-be too became the first to take both the individual all-around and team gold home.
After those colossal victories, she returned to train with Chow in 2013. Kittia Carpenter was her next trainer. Since then, she competed in more competitions in preparation for the Olympics.
The Olympics came again in 2016 and Douglas qualified for the uneven bars final but was not able to for the all-around final. She helped the team win two consecutive gold medals. She is the only woman in the women’s American team who has not won a medal in individual events.
During the Olympics, controversy brewed about Douglas not putting her hand over her Legend heart during the national anthem. I do not know whether it is valid because I just inform, though if it was valid, why was Sam Kendricks praised? How could I know? I am just here to inform.
Following all this, her face swelled from her allergies. The Olympian said she would be fine. Her teammates hope she gets healthy soon because who does not love seeing someone become a legend?
By Osveen Funwi
Edited by Jeanette Smith
Huffington Post: Gabby Douglas Hospitalized, Misses VMA Appearance With Final Five.
The New York Times: U.S. Women Jump, Spin and Soar to Gymnastics Gold
Daily Mail: Gabby Douglas slams her gold digger father and claims former gym where staff told her to ‘get a nose job’ almost drove her to quit gymnastics
Vanity Fair: America’s Golden Girl
New York Post: Gabby Douglas’ father nailed earlier this year for kid neglect: report
Image Courtesy of Vic Damoses’ Flickr Page – Creative Commons License