Gabrielle Douglas captured countless hearts at the 2012 Olympic Games, where she became the first African American to win the women's gymnastics individual all-around. Just 16, she dazzled during the gold-winning women's gymnastics team competition. But fewer spectators know of the Virginia native's difficult upbringing—and that faith in Christ helped get her through it.
Douglas recounts her childhood and hard-won athletic triumph in her new memoir, Grace, Gold & Glory: My Leap of Faith, newly out from Zondervan. Christianity Today contributor Cornelia Becker Seigneur spoke with Douglas about how she almost quit gymnastics, why she included her dad in the book, and why she credits God for it all—even when she loses.
What's behind the title of your new book?
Grace is the beauty of the sport, it's graceful, and also the grace of God. Gold means going for your dreams and achieving them. Glory means all the glory goes up to God. "My leap of faith" is about overcoming obstacles such as moving to Iowa [to train], being away from my family, and injuries.
You write that seven months before the Olympics, you were so homesick you wanted to quit gymnastics to move back home to Virginia and work at Chick-fil-A in Virginia Beach.
No one knew that about me, but yeah, I wanted to quit and try a different sport like track and field. I was really homesick and wanted to go home.
What turned you around?
My mom, my coach, my sister, my host family—everyone told me to keep fighting, that the Olympics were right around the corner. And my brother John. He and I are so close in age, we are like two peas in a pod. He kept telling me to keep fighting and pushing along. A couple days later, I went back to the gym and was on fire. I was just determined to get back and give 100 percent."
This idea of continuing to fight seems to be a theme of your life.
Definitely. You have to keep pushing, even though you get sick and have injuries. I learned from my mom to always keep pushing yourself.
Your mom, Natalie Hawkins, appears a lot in your memoir.
She has just been amazing, she has supported me throughout my gymnastics career. She sacrificed a lot, money, time, all the effort. I mean, she worked multiple jobs to help me fight for my dreams. I love her so much, I don't know where I would be without her.
Woven throughout the book are also references to your father [Timothy Douglas].
I decided to put him in the book. He wasn't really there, he wasn't in the picture, and he did not live up to my expectations. But I hope he'll know from Grace, Gold & Glory how I felt, and that I still have a future.
You describe a period in your early life when you were homeless.
I was very young so I don't remember [the details], but my mom and my siblings said it could be cold at times; we ate off the floor, off napkins. It was my motivation to accomplish my dreams. My family and I had to overcome a lot to get where we are today.
After winning your Olympic gold medal in the Women's Gymnastics Individual All-Around competition, a reporter asked you what it was like to win. You said, "I give all the glory to God. It's kind of a win-win situation. The glory goes up to him and the blessings fall down on me." Did you think of that statement in advance?
It means so much to me, it gives me chills when you repeat it. I thought I could put together all those Scriptures that my mom kept sending me and that I kept reading, and God gave me that quote to say, because it is true: God gave me this amazing talent, and of course I want to represent him.