The Gabby Douglas Story: The Gymnastics Star Talks About Her Own Movie

Tomorrow marks the start of Black History Month. To celebrate the occasion (and because our Olympic fever is running high) Parents chatted with Olympic gymnast and gold medalist Gabby Douglas to talk about her upcoming biographical film The Gabby Douglas Story premiering Saturday, February 1 on Lifetime. After talking with the spunky athlete about her accomplishments and her family, it’s no wonder that Gabby, and her mom, Natalie Hawkins, continue to inspire us.

P: Tell me how you feel about gymnastics and how you feel when you compete.

GD: I love gymnastics and when I compete it’s my favorite thing to do. I just love putting on a good show for the crowd. It’s just so fun for me because as a gymnast we get dolled up and I love decorating my own leotard. My mom and I love to put a lot of rhinestones on it, a lot of bling. It looks great out on the competition floor.

P: How were your mom, your sisters, and your brother helpful in encouraging you to pursue your passion?

GD: They were so helpful and supportive. Family is definitely the most important thing. When I wanted to quit they helped me get right back on track. They’re so loving, so caring, and I wouldn’t have been on the podium if it weren’t for them.

P: When was the first time you thought about the Olympics? 

GD: When I was little the Olympics was in the back of my mind, but it wasn’t until I was 8 slash 9. During the 2004 Olympics, an Olympic gold medalist was doing a skill called The Jive on bars—her name is Carly Patterson—and I was looking at what she was doing and I thought Oh my goodness I want to go there and do what she’s doing. I sat in front of the TV in awe.

P: And now you’re the flying squirrel.

GD: I haven’t heard that name in a very long time.

P: Your family was obviously very supportive, but you did endure economic hardship. What does it mean to you to have a mom who made sacrifices and believed in you enough to make those difficult choices?

GD: Just to have a mom like her who sacrificed basically everything for me to be in the gym and for me to train and go to different competitions, to this day I’m just like, Mom, gold medal goes to you. She’s so supportive and even at my lowest point or if I would make a mistake, she wasn’t very hard on me. She would say, “You know what, next competition. I believe in you.” She believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. I’m just so blessed to have a mom like her. Thanks, Mom! I love you.

P: You’ve mentioned there were times when you thought of quitting. What made you continue on?

GD: I wanted to quit right before the Olympic Games. I was homesick and it was hammering time in the gym and I was doing more intense numbers and routines and I thought, Oh my goodness, this is way too hard. I want to quit and work at a Chick-Fil-A or join another sport. The people around me, my team, my brother John, my two sisters Joy and Ariel, and my mom helped me get back on track and told me just to keep fighting.

P: What would you say to a kid who is thinking of quitting either a sport or an art, something that they’ve devoted a lot of time and energy and passion to?

GD: I would say, just keep pushing through and don’t give up. We’re human, so of course there may be some times where we think it’s too hard or we want to give it up because things may look crazy, but I would just tell him, “If you have the passion for it, just don’t give up! Just keep pressing!” The worst thing to have in life is regret. Keep striving for your goals and keep pushing through.

P: What is your advice or your mom’s advice for parents of a child who wants to quit?

GD: Mom, maybe you’re better to answer this one.

NH: I knew gymnastics was her passion. It was never something that I wanted her to go out there and do. It was something that she always expressed to me that she loved. If that’s the situation, then you definitely have to be there to provide that support when the times get hard, because they do get hard. After 10 years of  training in a sport 38 hours a week it get’s kind of monotonous after a while. You have to be that support that helps them when they’re struggling the most. What I didn’t do was grill her when she came home from practices. I didn’t come down hard on her if she made a mistake. I would say, “You have to allow yourself chances to make mistakes because you’re human. You’ll go out there, you’ll compete again, and you’ll be happy with your results, but you’ll never, you know, know the satisfaction if you don’t try.” And then if it’s not their passion anymore and they want to explore other sports, it’s hard. As a parent when you’ve put so much time and energy and effort into something, you want to see it through to the end. But if you know that that’s not their passion and they’ve expressed that to you, I think you have to step back and allow them to pursue their own path.

P: At a certain point, you decided to train away from home. How were you feeling? 

GD: I moved away from home from Virginia Beach all the way to West Des Moines, Iowa and I know that everyone thinks WHY? I moved away when I was 14 years old and what I was feeling was I am so ready for my dreams to become my reality. I was just so ready for a new chapter and a new beginning! I also was so excited to train with Coach Chow, the coach that I saw at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. I was so stoked to meet him and train under his wing, so at that time I thought YAY I get to go train with him! But then I realized what am I gonna do? My family wasn’t around me and missed being around them. I was devastated and thought, What did I do? I remember just crying pretty much every day. I just had to come to realize that this was my decision. I just had to suck it up and push through this.

P: What was life around the house like being part of a new family?

GD: I moved in with the Partons and it was a change for me because they have four little girls and now I had become the big sister. I’m the youngest one in my family so I was like “what? Big sister? Huh?” It was just a change for me because I kind of had to set great examples for them in their life. I loved it. I loved helping them with their school or watching them dance because some of them did dance. Leah Parton does gymnastics so I would help her on different skills. I loved it. I like being the big sister!

P: You make it to the Olympics. You win team gold. You win all-around gold. You make history as the first American woman to do both in a single Games. You’re the first African-American to win all-around. What were you feeling in the immediate moments and then the aftermath of all of this success that you’d been working towards?

GD: Oh gosh. I just wanted to go to London. I did the best that I could. I wanted to place because who runs a race and doesn’t want to win? Everyone competes to win. But, wow. It hadn’t sunk in, yet. So much was going on and I think when I got back to the States it actually sunk in because everyone said, “We were watching you and rooting for you.” When I won was just excited. Thinking about all the sacrifices my family and I had to overcome…it finally paid off and it was all worth it.

P: Black History Month is upon us and you’ve certainly made history. How does it feel to take on the position of role model in the African-American community?

GD: It’s so great. I just love sharing my advice to young kids or anyone who is going through struggle or an obstacle in their life. I’m just so blessed to be on this platform where I get to inspire or make a big impact on someone else’s life.

P: What is the message that you want to communicate to young kids?

GD: My message is just to always keep pushing through and you never ever want to give up. You want to try your hardest and give your 100 percent. I learned to just keep pushing through. Like my mom said you never know if you don’t try so you always want to give it your best shot.

P: One of the things you had to push through was being bullied or feeling ostracized as a child at your home gym. Even at the Olympics they were making such a big deal about things like hair. How do you handle criticism and what is your advice to kids who are dealt criticism from their peers?

GD: My advice would be just to not focus on it. You always want to walk in love. You never want to go out and say mean things back because you’ll regret it. I wouldn’t worry about it. But if you’re being bullied, you need to speak up and tell an adult. As for London, I knew I had a job to do at the Olympics and I wasn’t going to let anyone or anything stop me from accomplishing my dreams. So I was said, “Yeah they can talk about my hair, but I’m gonna do this floor routine.”

P: Yeah and you nailed it. So, how do you feel about being the subject of a biographical film for Lifetime?

GD: Oh my goodness. It’s just amazing! I’m in New York City right now and we pulled by a bus stop and I have a poster right there! It just seems so surreal. I never would have thought I would have a movie coming out about my life story.

P: Did you have a lot of input in the film with picking who played you, or any of the events that you thought were the most important moments of your life to include?

GD: I did. My mom and I had a lot of input and we were very much involved with who portrayed us. When we found out Regina King was playing my mom we were jumping up and down. We love her and she did an excellent job. They kept my mom and I in the loop.

P: Are you having a viewing party on Saturday?

GD: I think my family is back in L.A. I am not going to be there because I am actually a special correspondent for Inside Edition [at the Sochi Olympics].

P: Have you seen the finished product? Are you happy with it?

GD: I am happy with the film. I like how they show the spirit of my family and my story and how we like to joke and we’re just so close. I’m pleased. Are you pleased mom? (I am.) She’s pleased.

P: What are you hopes for the future? I heard you want to go into acting, not just being the subject of a movie, but here you are going off with Inside Edition

GD: I want to do another Olympics. The whole Olympic experience is just such a fun journey and you know you learn a lot so I definitely want to do another Olympics. I’m training right now and hopefully I’ll be competing by this year. You’ll see me and root for me!

The Gabby Douglas Story premieres February 1, 2014 on Lifetime at 8/7c. Check your local listings.

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