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Interview: Gabby Douglas recaps faith route

NASHVILLE (BP) — Only a few weeks before the 2012 Olympics gymnastics trials, Gabrielle Douglas was ready to walk away from the sport that had been her passion for a decade.

She had moved to Iowa from her home in Virginia for training, and she was homesick. She announced to her mother her intentions to quit gymnastics, move back home and work at Chick-fil-A. Though her mom tried to convince her not to, it was a conversation Douglas had with her brother John that ultimately strengthened her resolve.

“We’ve always been two peas in a pod,” Douglas told Baptist Press about her brother. “He just told me to keep fighting. He would tell me motivational quotes. It really clicked in my head.”

Douglas tells that story and many others in her new book, “Grace, Gold and Glory: My Leap of Faith,” published by Zondervan. Months after resolving that conflict with gymnastics, Douglas went on to win two gold medals in the London Olympics, where she became the first African American to win the all-around competition.

“That conversation was my turning point — the wake-up call that pulled me back from my foolish reckoning,” Douglas writes in the book. “John has always been my best friend. On that evening, he also became one of the heroes of my Olympic journey.”

“I’m so glad I made that decision to stick with it,” Douglas told BP. “I would have so much regret.”

Douglas, who just turned 17, spent most of her childhood in a single-parent home. Her mother, Natalie Hawkins, helped to instill a strong work ethic in Douglas and a love for the Lord and for Scripture.

“By now, you’ve probably caught on to something: my mother is always standing by with just the right Scripture or inspirational saying to get me through any tough situation,” Douglas writes.

Douglas said she became a Christian when she was about 10 years old. She prays at every competition before she competes, and said that after returning home from the Olympics she watched a recording of her events. She noticed her lips moving and said she knew that’s when she was praying.

Her gymnastics career began when she was 6. At age 14, she moved to Iowa to train with famed gymnastics coach Liang Chow, staying with a host family — Travis and Missy Parton and their four daughters. She’s been at home in Virginia Beach since the Olympics but plans to return to Iowa this spring to resume her training.

Though that move away from her mother and siblings was difficult, Douglas said it served to make her stronger and more mature.

Along her path to the Olympics, Douglas also had to deal with injuries in 2011 that threatened to derail her career. One night, Douglas sat in her bed and asked God why she was going through the ordeal.

“In the space of a response, there was deafening silence,” Douglas writes. “Until one Sunday morning when I went to church with the Partons. That’s when I heard a sermon that seemed directed at me.”

The pastor preached from Jeremiah 29:11: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a home and a future.'”

“In other words, God already knew how this would turn out — and that thought really touched me,” Douglas writes. “As Mom had reminded me so many times, I just had to trust Him.”

Douglas said the book, written with Michelle Burford, was designed to be inspirational in nature — for young girls, boys and anyone who might be interested in her story.

“I wanted everyone to know that though you may be going through hardships, you can still achieve your dreams,” she told BP.
Tim Ellsworth is editor of BP Sports and director of news and media relations at Union University in Jackson, Tenn.

    About the Author

  • Tim Ellsworth

    Tim Ellsworth is associate vice president for university communications at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.

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