Sixteen year old Gabby Douglas, won the gold medal in today's women's gymnastics individual all-around. Like many of the parents we've watched during these Olympic games, her mother, Natalie Hawkins, has been by Gabby's side every step of the way -- giving pep talks before competition and cheering loudly from the stands.
At 3 years old, Gabby did perfect cartwheels with straight legs. Her three siblings saw that she was uniquely talented. Older sister Arielle mentored Gabby, and begged Natalie to sign the young star up for gymnastics class. But, mom was apprehensive. It took four years of the kids' "badgering" before she gave in, Natalie recalls.
After five years of training at home in Virginia Beach, Va., Gabby had a pivotal moment. She watched Shawn Johnson compete in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, and knew she needed a new coach -- Shawn's coach, Liang Chow, to be exact. Gabby felt that her coaches at home had nothing left to teach her. The big problem was that Coach Chow trained thousands of miles away in West Des Moines, Iowa.
"No way, it's not gonna happen," Natalie told her daughter. Yet, again, she folded. Two years later, Natalie agreed to let Gabby move to Iowa and pursue her dreams, despite struggling with the decision. "I know I need to do it, but how do I send my youngest child away to a family that I dont know?" she remembers thinking.
Gabby moved in with the Parton family, and Natalie became more comfortable with the distance between them as her daughter settled in. "Even more than 3,000 miles away I can still mother her," Natalie says. The young gymnast was getting closer to representing her country -- and winning gold.
Then, in 2011, the tables turned. Gabby felt homesick and wanted to move back to Virginia. But this time, Mom wouldn't let her. "She told me, life is not easy, you have to fight and just refuse to quit," Gabby remembers.
Now that Gabby has realized her goals and become an Olympic champion, Natalie has no regrets. "Letting go of Gabrielle [was] one of the hardest things I've ever done in my life but it's now one of the most rewarding things that I've ever gotten to experience ... there's no greater joy than for a parent to see their child reach their dream," she says.
And reality is just starting to kick in. "I've raised an Olympian! Wow, that's a powerful statement right there."
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