Thursday, August 9, 2012
Q&A: Gabby Douglas, mom Natalie Hawkins
By Lynn Hoppes
The daughter-mother bond between Olympic gymnastics champion Gabby Douglas and her mom, Natalie Hawkins, has never been tighter.
It's easy to see when things are going well -- two gold medals and endorsement offers flooding in.
But throw in people making fun of Gabby's hair, people unhappy with Gabby's nickname and Gabby's family dealing with bankruptcy, and those trying things can put stress on a relationship.
However, Douglas and Hawkins have weathered the storm, remained positive and are closer than ever. And, in a week or so, they will be together in Virginia Beach, Va.
"I’ll be back home, see my friends and take things one day at a time," Douglas said. "I'd like to go see the ocean, also. It's time for me to slow down a little bit."
That's understandable after spending the past two years living and training in Des Moines, Iowa, with host family the Partons, away from her sisters, brother and mother.
The video clip above shows how Douglas came to be an Olympian, and Playbook had a few minutes to talk with Douglas and Hawkins in the Procter & Gamble Family Home about life post London Olympics.
Natalie, you must have been thrilled to see your daughter win those medals.
"I'm beyond elated. It's the best feeling you can have as a parent to see your child reach her dreams. You watch as they put everything into it to get there. Gabrielle put in a lot of hard work and effort. I was in the background, taking on the financial burden of paying for the sport and having the emotional stability for her. It fills me with such pride and so much joy to be here."
And, Gabby, what was it like having her there for you?
"It's definitely important to have your mom and family there to back you up and cheering from the stands. You'd love them to come to every big dance and every big game, but sometimes that's not possible. But I'm so glad and honored my mom and siblings made it to the London Games. That's where it all counted. That's when it was most important."
Natalie, when all that talked sprouted up last week about people in social media making fun of Gabby's hair, what was your reaction?
"I was saddened. And that sadness turned to anger. I just thought, 'Are you kidding me? My daughter moved away from home at the age of 14 in pursuit of a dream that most people will never realize in a lifetime and you're going to talk about her hair?' The talk was actually before the media picked it up. I started observing it on my Twitter account. People were saying I should have done something with her hair. 'Why isn't Gabby's mom doing anything?' These people don't even know that she doesn't live in the same town as me. There is not a big African-American population in Iowa. We finally found someone in West Des Moines to do it. I think we did a fabulous job of maintaining her hair. I thought it looked great. You can't always wear your hair out when you're a gymnast. Pulling you hair in a ponytail puts a lot of stress on our hair. It can't take all that. It'll break the hair and damage it. We need to do what we can do to keep the hair natural and healthy. I could have cut it shorter, but she preferred the longer tresses."
Gabby Douglas' hair was in a ponytail for her gold-medal performance and came under fire.
Gabby, how did you think your mom did defending you?
"It's definitely a mother-and-daughter moment. 'Don't mess with my baby,' she would say. 'You don't want to see the other side of Natalie coming out!' It was so funny. You need that in your life. Someone to protect you. You need your mom and dad to protect you. It means they love you so much. It was awesome she was backing me up and defending me."
You mentioned your dad, Air Force staff sergeant Tim Douglas. Have you had any contact with him since you won?
"No, not really. Me and my dad are kind of distant since my mom and him separated."
OK, let's talk about the nickname of "Flying Squirrel," given to you by gymnastics coordinator Martha Karolyi.
"I think 'Flying Squirrel' is going to stick with me throughout my gymnastic career and I kind of like that nickname. It took me a while to get used to it. Then I heard 'Golden Gabby.' That is really awesome. That's a new way to start my next chapter."
"I didn't know whether I would like the 'Flying Squirrel' at first either. I don't know about that one, just because of my race's history, being referred to as an animal. I wanted to be sensitive to people of my race and I didn't want Gabby or my other children offended by it. Then my dad got these T-shirts made with a flying squirrel on it because he was proud of his granddaughter. And then we made T-shirts ourselves for efforts to bring my two other daughters and son over to London for the Games to support her. We own that name. We're still getting a lot of mixed feedback."
Natalie, what do you think of the media coverage of your daughter?
"I thought for the most part everything has been very positive. Some articles aren't true and that's sometimes hard to read. I want to call those people up and say, 'That's wrong!' That's my biggest challenge as a mother. I was surprised that attention was brought to my bankruptcy. I thought the attention would be coming to her and not turning the spotlight on me and making judgments about me. I'm not ashamed. I did what I had to do to protect my home. I am on medical disability and I had a tremendous loss of income. I spoke with my uncle, who is an attorney, and another attorney and they said it was the best option to keep my home. I wanted to have a roof over our heads and a place my children could call home. With today's economy, a lot of families can't say the same thing. I bought this house as a single woman and I was proud to do that. I didn't want to walk away from it. I'm honored that so many people have come out and supported me and told me to not worry about all this negative press. I didn't think it was appropriate to put my personal business out there in the media, but that's the world we live in. I'm not ashamed of the decisions I've had to make."
That's host mother Missy Parton, Natalie Hawkins and 2008 silver medalist Shawn Johnson cheering.
Gabby, you spent so much time with the family in Iowa. What do they mean to you?
"I love them so much and they mean the world to me, Missy and Travis and the girls. I'm so glad I could share this with them also. They definitely deserve it. They said I'm a blessing to them. Well, they are a blessing to me. Missy's mom died of ovarian cancer, and they said it was God's will that I came in to fill the void. They took me and treated me like one of their own. Travis was the dad and father figure I never really had. They never excluded me out of anything. It was such an amazing experience."
Now, Gabby, what's next besides the 40-city gymnastics “Tour of Champions, which starts in September?"
"I need to enjoy this moment and take it day by day. I don't want to retire. I think it's too early for that. I'm still young and fresh. If all goes well, you'll be seeing more of me."