Along with Michael Phelps, Gabrielle Douglas is the talk of the Olympics. There's good reason for that: She just became the first African-American to win all-around gold in women's gymnastics. The story of her rapid rise from a talented gymnast to a world champion has entertained thousands, and her mother, Natalie Hawkins, has emerged as a star in her own right.
By supporting Douglas' decision to move to Iowa to train with elite gymnastics coach Liang Chow, Hawkins provided a sense of selfless dedication to her daughter's dream that has resonated across America. Yet another mother played an equally important role in Douglas' development into America's sweetheart.
Her name is Missy Parton, and she plays the role of Douglas' Mom in West Des Moines, Iowa, where the Olympic champion trains with Chow.
When Douglas decided to move to West Des Moines, her family knew they couldn't afford to pay for her living expenses in her new city. In addition, Hawkins wanted to make sure that Douglas would feel at home and part of a family.
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According to the New York Times, Parton stepped forward and opened her home to one of Chow's gymnasts who couldn't afford living expenses after her mother passed away. The Parton family only made the decision after a series of family debates about whether or not they should add another family member.
In the end, the Partons, a family of six, decided they could use one more. The rest, as they say, is history.
"God never took something away without filling the hole, without replacing it with something," Missy Parton told the Times. "And for us he just happened to replace it with a 16-year-old black girl."
The Partons have been integral in making Douglas feel at home in Iowa, a place physically and culturally as far from her Virginia Beach hometown as possible. When Douglas was uneasy about the lack of other African-Americans in Des Moines, the Partons made jokes about it. Douglas laughed, then became comfortable and, eventually, transitioned into a role of older sister to 10-year-old Hailey, 7-year-old twins Leah and Lexi and 6-year-old Elisa.
While Douglas' time in Iowa got off to a rough start -- the gymnast told the Des Moines Register that her first impressions were of empty corn fields and that she suffered from homesickness -- the Partons refused to allow her to not be part of the family. She sits in the middle of the table at family brunches. She sits with her new sisters in church on Sunday. She went with the Partons to the state fair, and ate every new type of fried food on a stick.
In fact, Douglas loved the state fair. When the event was raised during a Register interview, the Partons hesitated to bring Douglas along in 2012 for fear of the crowds she would attract. The gymnast quickly came up with an alternate plan: She'd wear a fat suit and a wig. Anything to spend more time with her family at the fair.
Now, it appears that Douglas' two families might get even closer. Hawkins told AP reporter Will Graves that she plans to move to West Des Moines to be near her daughter while she trains for the world gymnastics circuit and, eventually, the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro. It sounds like Hawkins wants to let her daughter keep spending plenty of time with the Partons, too, as she told Missy Parton when the two were interviewed for "Good Morning America" on Friday.
"I can't imagine her without you guys now because it really is like mom one, mom two."
If Hawkins does move to Iowa, it might cement Douglas' rise to international prominence as one of the most quintessentially American tales ever witnessed. An African-American teenager from a predominantly black Southern town moves to the Midwest, where she lives with a large white family in a nearly all-white city. She is trained by an Asian-American, and she proves so successful that her family follows her west.
Douglas even became an Olympic champion in the process.
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