by Ronald C. Jordan
At a time when, like most young girls her age, she should have still been celebrating turning 16, contemplating the excitement of boys and dating, and anticipating getting her driver’s license, Gabrielle Douglas was facing the biggest challenge of her young life.
Ignoring the sea of television cameras recording her every move as she stepped out onto the grandest stage Olympic competition has to offer, Gabrielle, or Gabby as she has come to be known, had only one thing in mind.
Poised and reflective as she prepared to perform the last of four routines as a member of the U.S. gymnastics team competing in the 2012 Olympics, she looked straight ahead—her lips moving in silence as though she were talking through her routine in advance.
“I’ve always relied on my faith,” Gabby would later explain. “Every time I watch the footage from the Olympics, I can see my lips, and they’re moving because I’m praying. It’s always been a part of me. I’ve always used it during training and competitions.”
Gabby was on her way to making history by winning two Olympic gold medals. She was about to become the first black woman, and only the fourth American, to win gold in the individual all-around in women’s gymnastics. Her body ached—the result of hours upon hours of intense training and practice, and injuries she suffered leading up to the competition. Her heart ached, too, due to the loneliness of being more than a thousand miles away from her family for nearly two years, while she was in training. And more recently came the personal attacks—hurtful criticism from insensitive onlookers who paid more attention to Gabby’s hair than her athletic prowess.
But on this day, in July 2012, in front of thousands of spectators inside London’s North Greenwich Arena, and millions watching around the world, 16-year-old Gabby Douglas had chosen not to reflect on those things. Instead, she remembered the encouragement from her mother, Natalie Hawkins, in the months leading up to the competition—particularly when Gabby decided she wanted to quit.
“Mom reminded me that I was living out my dream, and that if I quit, I would never get this moment back again, that it would be gone forever,” recalls Gabby. “She told me that life was not easy, and that I had to fight and refuse to quit.”
There was one other thing that came to Gabby’s mind. It was a prophecy someone had sent to her that was given by Kenneth Copeland at the end of 2011 that spoke about the year 2012.
“It’s going to be a year of great joy for those who know joy,” the prophecy said, in part. “It’ll be a time of marvelous breakthroughs. This is a time of victory. It’s a time when people begin to realize that My WORD is a living WORD, that My Spirit is the living Spirit, and that you are My voice in the earth. And your voice is the voice of victory.”
Gabby had taken those words to heart, realizing that God had a plan for her life. She even underlined portions of the prophecy that she said “related directly to things that were going on in my life.” Little did she know that before the day was over, she would see much of what was spoken through Brother Copeland come to pass in her life.
In her final performance, Gabby captivated the crowd as she flipped and twisted her way through a near-perfect floor routine. When the scoreboard lit up, she had garnered an overall score of 62.232. Five minutes later, Russia’s Viktoria Komova delivered an equally impressive performance. But with an overall score of 61.973, about three-tenths less than Gabby’s score, it would not be enough to take first place.
Gabby Douglas had just made history, becoming the first African-American gymnast to become the individual all-around champion; the first American gymnast to win gold in both the individual all-around and team competitions at the same Olympics; and the only American all-around champion to win multiple gold medals.
While Gabby and her teammates celebrated their victory on the floor of the arena, her mom, sisters Arielle and Joyelle, and brother Johnathan, rejoiced in the stands.
Standing humbly to accept top honors as a representative of her country, Gabby couldn’t help but remember something God had reminded her of a month earlier, after she placed first in the all-around rankings at the 2012 Olympic Trials in San Jose, Calif.
“The hardest part in all of this is making the team,” Gabby says. “So when I made it, it was a big relief. The pressure was gone. The funny thing is, it didn’t really sink in that I had won a spot on the team until I stepped out onto the Olympics floor. I looked around and there were Olympic ring signs everywhere. The commentating was so loud, and the stadium was jampacked. There were flags from so many countries and people were cheering for their representatives.
“At that moment, I remember thinking, Wow, God really did have a plan for me!”
Almost overnight the 16-year-old became a global superstar, whose victory had instantly led to several endorsement deals with such sponsors as Nike, Kellogg, Procter & Gamble and AT&T. She received invitations to appear on several TV shows, including Disney’s Kickin’ It, Oprah’s Next Chapter, Live with Kelly and Michael, The Queen Latifah Show, The Arsenio Hall Show, Late Show with David Letterman and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, where she appeared along with first lady Michelle Obama. And her face appeared on the covers of half a dozen national magazines, including People, TIME, JET, Sports Illustrated and ESSENCE.
The Associated Press named Gabby “Female Athlete of the Year,” and Essence included her in its “Women of the Year” awards for 2012, a group that included Michelle Obama and Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts.
In December 2012, Gabby released her autobiography, Grace, Gold, and Glory: My Leap of Faith, which debuted at No. 4 on the New York Times Young Adult Best Seller List. Her second book, Raising the Bar, also a best-seller, was released in July 2013, and in early 2014, Lifetime Network aired a two-hour special called The Gabby Douglas Story.
‘That Could Be Me’
It’s been a whirlwind ride for sure for Gabby and her family who, in 2014, moved from Virginia to California to make managing Gabby’s new career easier. But for anyone who has followed the story of this child prodigy over the past two years, it’s no secret that life has not always been easy for Gabby and her family, who for years suffered through extreme poverty.
When she was 3, Gabby learned how to do cartwheels from her older sister Arielle, who was a gymnast. Gabby soon perfected the skill and began teaching herself other tricks. Arielle soon realized her baby sister’s athletic abilities and urged their mother to sign Gabby up for gymnastics. In October 2002, after four years of persistent persuasion, Arielle finally convinced her mother to sign her almost 7-year-old sister up for gymnastic classes.
“I always had a passion to just do flips, but watching the 2004 and 2008 Olympics is what inspired me to want to go to the Olympics,” Gabby remembers. “Before that, I didn’t really know I was doing gymnastics. I was just doing flips for fun. Then, one day I was watching the Olympics and saw a girl doing a particular skill that I was doing and I thought, That could be me at the Olympics.
“I remember sitting there in front of the TV in awe. I said to myself, ‘That could be me.’ I believed it 100 percent.”
In July 2004, Gabby began training at another facility in Virginia Beach, Va. Because the gym’s training regimen consisted of a morning workout schedule, it made attending regular school difficult for Gabby. So, Natalie worked split shifts and nights so she could home-school her daughter.
Despite a few challenges, which included struggles with fellow athletes as well as her coaches, Gabby excelled at the gym, entering and winning a number of state and national competitions. But as time passed, and with her sights set on competing in the Olympics, she realized she would need a different style of training to take her to the next level.
While watching the 2008 Olympic Games, Gabby saw gymnastics coach Liang Chow, the man who coached 2007 World Champion and 2008 Summer Olympics balance beam gold medalist Shawn Johnson. Instantly, Gabby knew Chow was who she wanted as her new coach.
Problem was, the training gym was in West Des Moines, Iowa, over 1,000 miles away from Gabby’s home in Virginia. At first, Natalie was not receptive to sending her 14-year-old child so far away. But with some pleading from Gabby, backed up by her two sisters, Natalie finally agreed. In October 2010, Gabby moved to Iowa where, for the next two years, she lived with a host family while in training.
Over the next two years, Gabby excelled in her training. In March 2012 at Madison Square Garden Arena, New York City, she performed exhibition routines at the American Cup, an international competition that brings in top competitors from around the world. Although she was competing as an alternate, which means her scores didn’t count toward the official results, Gabby posted the highest all-around score. She competed in the June 2012 U.S. National Championships in St. Louis, Mo., where she won the gold medal in uneven bars, silver in the all-around and bronze in floor. And in July, she competed at the 2012 Olympic Trials in San Jose, Calif., placing first in the all-around rankings, and securing the only guaranteed spot on the women’s Olympic gymnastics team.
‘You Are Not Coming Home!’
Seven months before the Olympics, it appeared that Gabby’s dreams of competing were about to self-destruct when the young gymnast informed her mother that she was homesick and wanted to quit. Understanding her daughter’s dilemma, but realizing she was living her dream, Natalie told Gabby she could not come home.
“She just said, ‘You are not coming home,’” Gabby recalled. “‘We have all given up so much. We’ve all sacrificed so much. You’re almost there. You don’t want to have regrets, so just keep pushing it and don’t give up.’
“At first I was upset that she would say that to me,” says Gabby. “I wanted to ask: ‘How could you not want me home? You don’t understand. This is hard. Why do you want me to stick it out? I can’t.’ But the truth is, I really did understand. They just wanted what was best for me.
“This was something I wanted, and I made the decision to leave home to get it. When I did, I was so ready to take on this new journey and have fun and train with this new coach. I was ready for a new chapter. But when it actually happened and my family wasn’t there, I realized what I had done. My mom and my siblings were right. I just needed to focus and keep pushing.
“The next day, something clicked in my spirit and I heard these words: God has a plan for you. Don’t give up,” Gabby said. “I got my Bible and read Jeremiah 29:11. Then I thought, God knows what He’s doing and I know He has a plan in store for me. There’s something greater. His thoughts are higher than my thoughts. His ways are higher than my ways.”
Gabby picked up her phone, called Natalie and told her, “I’m going to give it everything I’ve got, Mom.”
“I just had to believe God and apply my faith,” she said.
Applying her faith. That’s what Gabby has continually done to get through the rough patches which have come while she’s been chasing her dream. It’s what she’s been doing ever since she was a small child living in Richardson, Texas, and learning about God as a member of Superkid Academy, the children’s ministry at Kenneth Copeland Ministries, while her family were members of Eagle Mountain International Church.
“When [the Superkids] were going through hard times, they would put their faith into action and believe God to deliver them from the situation,” Gabby remembers from watching videos of Commander Kellie and the SuperkidsTM. “That’s how my mom taught me to respond.”
Early last year, along with her mom and two sisters, Gabby returned to Texas and KCM, where she got to meet Kenneth Copeland and share with him the impact the prophetic word he had spoken in 2011 had had on her life. She showed him her copy of the prophecy, pointing out the underlined sections that pertained to her.
“It’s one of the few times I’ve seen Gabrielle speechless,” Natalie said, “but she was so honored to be in his presence. We even took pictures of Brother Copeland holding her gold medals.”
In June, Gabby began training again with the goal of competing in the 2016 Olympics, which will be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Although the busyness of being a high profile athlete has not slowed, Gabby decided she needed to focus on her new dream and has had to turn down many amazing opportunities for now. There are still the occasional guest appearances and other commitments she must honor, but she remains committed to training so she can perform even more difficult routines and skills.
Through it all, Gabby remains mindful of the fact that, as a role model, she must continue to reflect the strong values that have kept her grounded on this incredible journey. With more to come, she knows how important it is that she remain steadfast in her faith.
“I didn’t think it was going to be this wild and crazy,” Gabby said of all the attention her victory has brought. “But I love it. I love being on the platform—not just to meet the celebrities, do the red carpets and make appearances—but to be an inspiration and to encourage others to achieve their dreams is such a beautiful thing!
“To realize that I can make an impact on someone else’s life is just a wow moment for me. I remember watching the Olympics and how those girls made a big impact on me. They inspired me. For the tables to be turned and for me to be in these shoes, where I get to inspire people, is such an honor.
“But at the end of the day, I’m still the same Gabby.”
Give your kids a breakthrough year! Now it’s easier than ever to have a family devotion time with the Superkid Academy Home Bible Studies. Learn more at www.superkidacademy.com.
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