Gabby Douglas has made history at the Olympics, edging out her competition to win the most coveted title in all of women’s gymnastics – a gold medal in the women’s individual all-around competition – and a gold medal in the team competition. It was no easy accomplishment to reach that podium as the star gymnast left behind life as she knew it to make her Olympic dream a reality.
Two years ago, Douglas, then a 14-year-old from Virginia Beach, Va., took a leap of faith. “She said, ‘I really need to have a change in my coaching’ … and said ‘I want Liang Chow,'” Douglas’ mother, Natalie Hawkins, recalled.
Chow had coached Shawn Johnson to Olympic gold four years ago in Beijing, and Douglas thought he would be the coach to catapult the rising gymnast to the Olympic stardom she so desperately craved. There was one problem; he lived more than 1,200 miles away in Des Moines, Iowa.
Hawkins, a single mom, was faced with the impossibly difficult decision of whether she should let her youngest daughter move halfway across the country.
“So, [Gabby] said, ‘Well, I’ll go by myself,’ and I said, ‘Do you understand what you’re saying?'” said Hawkins. “There was just one thing. It was that we would miss her.”
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Missy Parton, left, the host mother for gold… View Full Size
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Douglas’ sisters Arielle and Joy helped convince their mom that letting her go was necessary. After much hesitation and wavering, Hawkins relented and sent her.
The cross-country move was made easier thanks in part to Travis and Missy Parton, who took Douglas in to live with them and their four daughters in West Des Moines, Iowa, after Douglas’ first host family didn’t work out.
Parton, whose daughter Leah was also taking gymnastics lessons with Chow, was one of several families who had volunteered to host Douglas. Missy Parton welcomed her as one of her own daughters.
“She went from being the baby in her house to being the oldest in my house, and it took her a little time to kind of get used to,” said Parton, whose daughters Hailey, 10, Leah and Lexi, 7, and Elissa, 6, quickly bonded with Douglas. For Hawkins, it was a huge relief to know her daughter was in Parton’s caring hands.
“I relied on Missy a lot during that time I would call her a lot and say ‘How’s she doing?'” said Hawkins. “You just fall in love with her right away,” Parton said of Douglas.
Together they raised an Olympian and found a lifelong friendship.
Hawkins told Parton: “I can’t imagine her without you guys now because it really is like mom one, mom two.”
On Thursday night, it was both overwhelming and awe-inspiring for both women to watch as Douglas captured the gold medal in the all-around individual competition. Douglas is not only the first gymnast to win both the all-around and the gold in the team competition, but she’s the first African American all-around champion in Olympic history.
Watching from the sidelines together, both hanging on her every move, were mom one and mom two.
“At times I was like wait a minute, whose kid is this hers or mine?” Hawkins said jokingly.
Now, Douglas will be a household name. She has already received praise from millions, including President Obama and Oprah Winfrey, who posted on Twitter Thursday, “OMG I’m so THRILLED for Gabby. Flowing happy tears!!”
“She made history on several many different levels. It makes me think the sky is the limit,” said Hawkins.