Gabby Douglas has opened up about the racism and lack of a father figure in her life that almost caused her to give up gymnastics for good to go work at Chick-fil-A.
Gabby may be one of America’s sweethearts now after snagging two gold medals at the 2012 Olympics in London, but the gold medalist almost gave up her dreams to work in fast food.
She was only 15-years-old when she was forced to leave her family in search of better training, and even had to come face to face with the overwhelming racist presence in her sport.
Douglas moved in with a family in West Des Moines so she could train with Liang Chow, the coach who was able to lead her to Olympic victory.
Even when the young Olympian was back home in Virginia, however, training for gymnastics was a hard thing to do when she was constantly being labeled as an outsider due to the color of her skin and the way she looked.
“I was just, you know, kind of getting racist jokes, kind of being isolated from the group,” she admitted. “So it was definitely hard. I would come home at night and just cry my eyes out.”
When she was only 12, training at one the gyms in Virginia, one of her coaches told her that she needed a nose job in front of all her other team mates. Instead of standing up for their team mate, all the other girls joined in on ridiculing Gabby.
She was the butt of all their jokes and they always asked her how she could breathe out of her flat nose.
Being the only African American girl on the team, she was afraid to file a complaint so she called her mother for help. She never told her mother why she was feeling ugly, but she asked her mom if she was beautiful. Needless to say, her mother assured Gabby that she was absolutely gorgeous – which indeed she is.
She conquered the obstacle of her race, however, and now the 16-year-old gymnast will go down in history as the first African American woman to take the gold in individual all-around gymnastics and made the victory a little sweeter by working with her team to bring home the team gold as well.
“I kind of forgot about that,” Gabby said when reporters asked her about her history making performance. “Man, that’s awesome, that’s definitely an amazing feeling. I forgot about that.”
The graceful gymnast, who has been dubbed the “Flying Squirrel” gave her mother, brother, her coach, and her Iowa family all the credit for keeping her on the right track and out of Chik-fil-A but she made it a point not to mention her father… until now.
While news reporters were elated over the fact that the history making teenager’s father was fighting for his country in Afghanistan, nobody uncovered the real story.
Sgt. Timothy Douglas may have been a great veteran, but he wasn’t so great of a father. In fact, his presence alone almost caused Gabby to walk out on a critical meet in San Jose leading up to the Olympics.
Her father, who had never been a figure in her life and failed to support her athletic career, was in the stands for the competition and the sight of her father rattled the young Olympian.
She ran to her mother, who gave her the pep talk that sent her off to victory once again.
As much as we wished her father was there for support, it turns out that he really cashing on his daughter’s recent success and wanted her to autograph some merchandise.
“Dad began telling the media how he always supported me in my gymnastics career,” Gabby writes in her upcoming memoir. “The truth is that he didn’t.”
In the end, however, despite a father who only wanted to get some quick cash out of his teenage daughter and former team mates who mocked her race and physical appearance she still managed to conquer it all and seize victory.
Now the girl who at one point just wanted to “be a normal teenage kid” has been telling her story to Oprah, invited to several big name award shows like MTV Video Music Awards, flipped around stage while Alicia Keys performed “Girl on Fire,” and has even starred on “The Vampire Diaries.”
Not quite a “normal teenager,” but we have a feeling that she doesn’t mind.
As the first U.S gymnast to ever win gold in both the individual all around and team competition during the same Olympic Games she has become a celebrity for millions – including Beyonce and Nicki Minaj.
Her memoir “Grace, Gold, & Glory: My Leap of Faith” which tells her inspiring story and her obstacle filled path to the Olympics hits shelves on December 4.