Gabrielle Douglas with Liang Chow (Getty)After winning the all-around at U.S. Olympic Trials, Gabrielle Douglas has emerged as a favorite to win gold in gymnastics. The 16-year-old is known for her high-flying routines and big difficulty marks. However, her Olympic dreams might not have come true if it weren't for a tough decision by her mother.
Natalie Hawkins, Gabrielle's mother, talked to Fourth-Place Medal about letting her daughter leave their Virginia Beach home and close family bonds to train with Chow's Gymnastics in Iowa. Hawkins called the decision to send her then 14-year-old to a state she had only visited once gut-wrenching.
"Worst, gut-wrenching decision I have ever made in my entire life. Lost sleep, lost hair, earned a few grays, I cried. I went through the whole gamut of emotions, I was angry, and then I came to a place of resolve. I said, 'OK, Natalie, you have this one chance to get this right. You mess this up, it's not going to come around again. This is gymnastics.'"
Hawkins had to take into account there are few second acts in gymnastics. As Beijing all-around champion Nastia Liukin recently learned, it's difficult to stay competitive for two straight Olympiads in a sport as demanding as gymnastics.
She had to listen to uncommonly wise lobbying from Gabrielle and her sisters. Gabrielle was not getting the coaching she needed in Virginia, but Hawkins asked her to work through the issues.
"She gets her sisters, and they came and said, 'These are the reasons she should go.' They broke it down. And I said, I would never see you! Not gonna happen. She said, 'You never see me now!' And I thought, 'Hey. I hate it when they're wiser than you!' I would say, 'Why can't you just suck it up?' She'd say, 'If you were at work, and you had to deal with some of this, how well would you suck it up?' Again. Why is my 14-year-old spouting this wisdom?"
Hawkins knew what she need to do. Though her family is very close, she had to allow Gabrielle to leave.
"I had to ask myself, was I going to be selfish? The only reason I had to keep her home was to keep her with me."
She first considered a gym in Texas, because with some family already there, Hawkins was comfortable moving her family there. When that didn't work out, she remembered a chance encounter with Liang Chow, the man who coached Shawn Johnson to a gold and three silver medals in 2008.
At a camp in Virginia, Chow had Gabrielle landing a new, difficult vault in 15 minutes. Hawkins later drove him to the airport, and was impressed with him. She called Chow, who remembered Gabrielle and wanted to work with her. Gabrielle moved in with a host family, and quickly progressed in her skills.
Now, with Gabrielle soon competing in the Olympics, Hawkins knows the hard decision was the right one.
"I made the right decision. I got it right, and you don't know. It's a gamble. I am so incredibly proud of her. I am in awe of what she can do."
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