Photo credits: Mitchell Haaseth / NBC Olympics
Last night, I had tears in my eyes as my daughter and I stood in our living room with our hands on our hearts and watched Gabby Douglas accept the gold medal for her amazing performance in the women’s individual all-around competition. That medal put her in the history books as the first gymnast to win both the all-around and the gold in the team competition. She is also the first African American to ever win the all-around competition. As the National anthem played, we were not only proud of Gabby for her incredible skill, her infectious smile, her winning attitude, and the way she has represented our country… but because just like my daughter and so many others we know… she is a military kid.
Her father, SSgt Timothy Douglas, has been deployed overseas three times with the Air National Guard. The first deployment to Iraq in 2003 was an adjustment for the family, and prepared them for his second deployment in 2006. He returned from his third tour this March and made his way to San Jose to surprise Gabby at the US Olympic trials.
Although Gabby’s parents are no longer married, and we have all learned that she had in fact left home for an extended period of time to train and hone her skills, one can only imagine that she faced some of the same worries and stressors that many of our military kids face when a parent is deployed.
But it does not appear that anything would have stopped this 16 year old champion from pursuing her Olympic dream. Two years ago she convinced her mother to allow her to move across the country and live with a host family so that she could train with the coach she felt would help her compete at the very top. As a parent, I cannot imagine having the courage to release my daughter to another family, and I applaud her mother for making that decision. And if I think back to when I was 14 years old, even though I may have fantasized about living with another family, I can’t imagine actually taking that step at such a young age.
Fun fact: If you scramble Gabby’s last name (DOUGLAS)… you can also spell out USA GOLD!
It seems that the entire country has fallen in love with Gabby, and I am encouraged that so many are looking up to this young lady. She is a role model in the African American community, for young ladies everywhere, and for anyone who has a desire to be the best but might need to take a leap of faith in order to pursue their dreams. And until last night, I didn’t realize that she could be a powerful role model for our military children as well.
When we first started watching the Olympic coverage last night, a neighbor (and fellow military kid) had just finished dinner with us and was eager to see the gymnasts compete. Throughout the night I was telling the girls all about Gabby and mentioned that she was also a military kid. “Really?!” was their reply, and when I said “yes, her Dad just got home from deployment in March”, their eyes got wide and one of them said, “wow, her Dad deploys too”? Then they turned to the screen in anticipation to watch The Flying Squirrel soar through the air on the uneven bars.
When a reporter reminded her that the win was historic, Gabby replied with a laugh, “I kind of forgot about that”! I am certain that she has no idea that in addition to all of the other people she has inspired, two little girls who also have a parent serving their country were among the list.
Gabby, I want to say, “thank you” for that.
As a mother of a pre-teen daughter who is fighting to figure out who she is… I want to thank you for SHOWING her that she can BE whoever she wants to be.
As a mother raising two daughters in an age where so much emphasis is put on popularity, appearance, and many superficial things… I want to thank you for proving that HARD WORK and DEDICATION are the things you should want to be rewarded for.
And as a mother who has seen her daughter devastated with worry during deployment… I want to thank you for giving her that important realization, “She and I have something powerful in common… and LOOK what she just accomplished!”