Two-time Olympic gymnast gold medalist, Gabrielle Douglas flying through the air. Photograph by Allen Fraser

Two-Time Olympic Gold Medalist Gymnast Gabrielle Douglas

From Overcoming Obstacles to Becoming an Olympic Gymnast: Meet Two-Time Gold Medalist Gabrielle Douglas

Written by Kelli Gillespie

This is the girl that overcame obstacles. This is the girl that moved away from her family with a vision to compete in the Olympics. And this is the young girl that captured the hearts of millions with her inspiring story. This is Gabrielle Douglas, commonly referred to as Gabby, who went on to become a two-time gold medalist. Her moving story has been highlighted throughout the media, in her own written biography and in the most recent television premiere, The Gabby Douglas Story. Here she shares with Risen about her training, her family, her faith and her desire to compete once again in the Olympics with her sight set on the 2016 team.

Interviewed for Risen Magazine

Risen Magazine: Tell me about your faith journey. When did you become a Christian and how has that relationship with God impacted your life and gymnastics?
Gabrielle Douglas: Faith plays a big role in my life and it started when I was very young. My mom introduced us [my siblings and me] to the Bible and about Jesus and it’s been a part of my life for such a long time. It plays a big role in my life and we do Bible studies [together]. If you watch the Olympics’ footage or any footage, you can see my mouth moving, that’s me praying. I always have to pray before a competition or before I’m about to compete.

Two-time Olympic gymnast gold medalist, Gabrielle Douglas. Photograph by Allen Fraser

Two-time Olympic gymnast gold medalist, Gabrielle Douglas. Photograph by Allen Fraser

Risen Magazine: When you are preparing for competition whether it national or global, like the Olympic Games, what do your conversations with God sound like? Are you praying for gold? Are you praying for no injuries?
Gabrielle Douglas: Kind of both. I just pray that I have a good routine and it’s a flowed and safe routine and that all of my skills are just beautiful and exquisite.

Risen Magazine: At a young 14 years old, you left your family in Virginia and moved to Iowa to train. What went into that decision and how did it mentally affect you moving forward?
Gabrielle Douglas: Moving to Iowa was my decision and I was so ready to go because I was ready for a new chapter. I was really excited. I got to train with this coach that I had wanted to train with and I was so ecstatic about moving and about the new journey. But then, when I got there I was like, “My goodness, what did I do? My family’s not here. My siblings aren’t here.” And I was really sad. I just had to come to my senses that it was my choice.
I wanted to quit and I remember just crying and crying every single day for a couple months, but I said to myself that I have to suck it up because I made this decision and if I want to go to the Olympics, I’m going to have to push it. If I want my dream to become my reality I’m really going to have to go 100 percent in the gym.
I didn’t think about failing or falling, or what if my family thinks I’m a failure. My family was supportive all the way. If I’d mess up they would comfort me and still be loving and supporting. In gymnastics you can’t really think about the negative side. You always have to think what came out of it, the positive note.

Risen Magazine: I understand at that time you lived with a host family. How did that come about and did they share your same beliefs? What is your relationship like with that host family today?
Gabrielle Douglas: We still talk and we’re very close. They actually reached out to Liang Chow [gymnastics coach] and then he reached out to us saying he knew a host family. The host family offered to open up their home so we went with them and it was such a blessing that I could stay there. They are believers [spiritually] too so it made it easier because I could just pull out my Bible and we went to church on Sundays. I had so much fun with that family and with the girls. I’m so glad that they could be a part of the journey.

And who knows? Maybe down the road if that person is praying they can inspire other people to pray too.

Risen Magazine: You went through a lot of trials both personally and as an athlete that it would be easy to doubt God’s plan during those times. What would you say to someone who doubts God’s plan for their life?
Gabrielle Douglas: I’d say don’t doubt, and trust. I had to stop with the what-ifs. I’d think, “What if I don’t make it? What if I fall? What if…?” I had to stop doubting and just believe. If you trust and believe then everything’s going to be okay.

Risen Magazine: Has anyone ever made fun of you for your belief in God or for praying?
Gabrielle Douglas: Not that I’ve really come across. A lot of people have been coming up to me and saying, “Thank you for saying all the stuff that you did about your faith.” And if someone’s getting [ridiculed for their faith] then I’d tell them, “Pay no mind to that person who’s making fun of you. Just keep doing it.” And who knows? Maybe down the road if that person is praying they can inspire other people to pray too.

Risen Magazine: What is the best advice you’d give to someone that feels bullied or defeated by others trying to hold them down?
Gabrielle Douglas: If someone is being bullied I’d tell them to speak up. Tell an adult or a friend, and [even] if you feel like you’ve been defeated just keep going. I know that may sound like, “What? Keep going? But I’m so down [depressed].” I had a point in my life when I had my ups and downs and six months out before the Olympics [in London,] I wanted to quit because I was at my lowest point. I was homesick and things in the gym were getting really hard for me. But it was my foundation that kept me on track and saying, “Hey, please don’t give up.” So, if you feel defeated keep going. You don’t want to look back and have regrets. Just keep pushing through and you can do it.

Risen Magazine: Your life is far from that of a typical teen. Have all your accomplishments been worth the sacrifice or if you could go back and live a moment as a regular young girl, what would you pick?
Gabrielle Douglas: It’s all been worth the sacrifice. My mom taught me and my siblings about perspective. I used to get mad when I didn’t go school shopping. I’d say, “Why am I not going school shopping or picking out school outfits?” And my mom would say, “Gabrielle, not everyone gets to go Italy for a competition.” And I’d say, “You know what? You’re so right.” So I had to change my perspective.
People invite me to proms or homecoming dances so I get to feel [somewhat] normal. I’ll hang out with my friends at the mall or have sleepovers. I think when I was younger I wanted to be more normal, but as I grew up I realized that I kind of get to experience both sides.

Risen Magazine: How has life changed for you and your family since winning the gold medals?
Gabrielle Douglas: Wow. Life has changed so much for us and we’re just so blessed and so honored. I’m really honored that they could be a part of this journey too. It changed so fast. Everyone in the world was like, “Who is Gabby Douglas?” And then I won the Olympics and it was like an overnight celebrity thing. I never thought it would happen so fast.

Risen Magazine: Are you hoping to go to Rio for the Olympics in 2016?
Gabrielle Douglas: Yes. I’m training right now and everything’s going smoothly and hopefully I’ll be competing by this year and yes, the main goal is 2016. You have to find something that motivates you that drives you to want to do the thing that you love. The Olympics is driving me into the gym to bust my butt every single day, to just give 100 percent.

Risen Magazine: Speaking of the Olympics, what was it like standing on the podium when you accepted your gold medal?
Gabrielle Douglas: It was truly such an honor to stand on the podium and all I could think about was the effort in the gym. The determination and sacrifice that I and my family had put in to the gym… it finally paid off.
When I was at the Olympics and I had won, a lot of people were saying it’s not going to sink in until you get back home. And when I got back home, I think it was still sinking in because I had a lot of fans and media attention, and it was just amazing. I think it’s really going to sink in when I’m a little bit older and I see the impact I fully made.

Still from The Gabby Douglas Story told on The Lifetime Channel

Still from The Gabby Douglas Story told on The Lifetime Channel

Risen Magazine: While fans usually just see the culmination of all your hard work once it’s showcased during competition, give us a glimpse as to what your schedule looks like and the prep going into training for Rio in 2016?
Gabrielle Douglas: Yes, people don’t see any training, they only see me out on the competition floor where a beautiful masterpiece [is displayed] a beautiful routine, a beautiful leo [leotard/costume], and makeup. But behind the scenes there is a lot that goes into all of that.
I train six days a week. I have Sundays off and I do about four to six hours in the gym depending on what day it is because sometimes my gym schedule is different each day. And man, it’s just intense. A lot of doing it over and over and over again, it’s just challenging in the gym and it’s very tough.

Risen Magazine: What would you say is the most important thing that you’ve learned from the last Olympics that you will keep in mind as you train for Rio in 2016?
Gabrielle Douglas: I’ve learned just to keep going, even when days are really hard in the gym. When I’m having a really hard day I have to keep pushing through because if I can get through that one day – that hard day – then on the easiest day it’ll be that much easier. I have to keep reminding myself to just keep pushing through.

Risen Magazine: Where do you keep your gold medals?
Gabrielle Douglas: I just kind of leave them in the boxes because I don’t want the ribbon to fray. I don’t want to accidently drop them and have them break. But I do look at them every once in a while, I’ll take them out and look at them and think, “Wow.

Risen Magazine: Aside from physically training for the Olympics, what is your mindset? Do you feel any pressure to defend your title?
Gabrielle Douglas: My mindset is I’m not Gabby Douglas. I’m not a big champion in my mind. I’m just going to think I’m another girl vying for a spot on the 2016 team. I’m just another girl competing for USA, and hopefully, I’ll do the best that I can. But I’m just going into it with that mindset, trying to be humble and grounded.

Risen Magazine: What is the best piece of advice that someone has given you?
Gabrielle Douglas: I remember when I was at my lowest point and I wanted to quit. My mom and brother told me just to keep fighting and don’t give up. I remember my mom saying, “I don’t want you to have regret. I don’t want you to come home and be sitting on the couch and be watching the Olympics and say, ‘I wish I would’ve been there’.” She’d just tell me to stick it out, push through and that I could do it. And hey, if I didn’t make it, at least we could all say we gave it our best shot.

Risen Magazine: You wrote a book, you’ve been on cereal boxes, a TV correspondent, and earlier this year a movie was made about your life. What do you hope viewers walked away with after watching The Gabby Douglas Story?
Gabrielle Douglas: I just hope that they’ll become inspired and motivated in their own lives and will think, “Okay, if she can do it, then I can do it. If she can overcome the obstacles that she overcame, then I can overcome this one in my life and I’m going to go after my dream and achieve my goals and I won’t let anything or anyone stop me.” I just want them to be inspired.

Risen Magazine: How do you separate Gabby the person, from Gabby the brand? How much input do you have on how you’re marketed and what your face appears on and doesn’t appear on? What’s that piece that keeps you grounded and focused?
Gabrielle Douglas: I’d definitely have to say my mom raised us well, and my faith also keeps me grounded and humble. I’m really blessed to have such a supportive family and they definitely keep me grounded. I think gymnastics keeps me humble too. In gymnastics you have to be very disciplined and when I start getting cocky and thinking, “Yes I can do this!” I realize that I start messing up more. So it’s all the different sorts of things that keep my head from being too blown up.

Risen Magazine: With the book and the movie and other appearances that you do, why do you feel a responsibility or an importance in sharing your story with others?
Gabrielle Douglas: I want them to see that things are possible. I went through some things in my life that were very difficult and I went through struggles and I want them to see that it is possible. And if they’re going through something in their life I want them to know that they can overcome it.

Interview originally published in Risen Magazine, Spring 2014

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