By Gabrielle Angelica Abesamis and Breana Brill
Gabrielle and Breana are juniors at Niles West High School. They are student reporters for The Mash, a weekly teen publication distributed to Chicagoland high schools.
If you ask most teenagers what they did this summer, the most popular response you’ll probably get is, “I slept.” But three teenagers — Gabrielle Douglas, Jordyn Wieber and McKayla Maroney — did anything but sleep this summer. Along with “Fierce Five” teammates Aly Raisman and Kyla Ross, they were busy winning gold medals in gymnastics at the London Olympics.
It was their moment to shine, and shine they did.
“I think the feeling of standing up on the podium with a medal around your neck at any competition — whether it’s a small one or World Championships or the Olympic Games — that’s what we work for and that’s what motivates us to keep pushing ourselves even when we have hard days in the gym,” Wieber told The Mash a few days before performing in the Kellogg’s Tour of Gymnastic Champions at the United Center on Oct. 14.
In London, Douglas won the all-around gold medal, and all five girls contributed to the Americans taking the team gold.
“It was absolutely amazing and unexplainable,” Maroney said. “But the thing that really struck me is that I not only did this for myself, but on behalf of my country.”
Since they were little, the girls already knew that gymnastics was the sport for them. Wieber said her parents put her in baby gymnastics classes because they noticed that she had a lot of natural muscle definition.
For Maroney, her mom was just looking for a place for her to direct her energy. “I had a lot of energy when I was little, and my mom put me in gymnastics so I wouldn’t be crazy,” she said. “I was very athletic and played lots of sports, but I really fell in love with gymnastics because it incorporates all sports.”
Douglas knew by age 12 that she wanted to compete in the Olympics.
“She said, ‘Mom, I want to be able to push myself to the limit,’ ” Douglas’ mom Natalie Hawkins said at a mentoring brunch in Rosemont. “But it just wasn’t financially feasible for (me) to bring my whole family up to Iowa (so she could train). So when she was about 14, she gave me an ultimatum and she said, ‘If I don’t get a new coach, I’m going to quit.’
“So I thought, if I don’t do this and she doesn’t make it, what am I going to do? So I surrounded myself with friends and family and depended on them. You need to have those people around you when you’re trying to make a decision.”
Douglas remembers that time too.
“I just had a motivation and a dream that I wanted to accomplish,” she said. “If you know you have a dream, you go after it and fight for it. If you love something and you have a passion for it then you won’t let anyone or anything stop you.”
Despite the rigorous training and pressure, there were other challenges on the line. Douglas, for example, said that she almost jeopardized her career.
“I remember when my mom and my family came for Christmas and I was so homesick,” Douglas said. “I was on the verge of quitting and my mom, sisters and brother sat me down and said, ‘You know, if you quit it would have all been for nothing.’ So my mom told me, ‘I will always support you with anything, I want you to come home as a winner and a champion, I don’t want you to come home as a loser and a quitter.’ ”
Setbacks are just part of a journey that makes you a stronger person, Douglas said. “Even though times get tough, I promise you ... (it) will always pay off,” she said. “No matter what the outcome is, push it 100 percent and love what you do and have fun and show everyone what you’re capable of.”
Douglas and the other girls are still pumped for more competition. Maroney and Wieber have injuries, but it hasn’t dampened their motivation to get back to training for the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.
“I hope the injury won’t affect anything four years from now,” Maroney said. “I’d like to go to the Olympics again. ... I just had surgery on my toe; right now I’m healing up, and then I’ll get back in the gym.”
Wieber also sees Rio as a possibility for her. “Rio is always in the back of our minds, even though we just finished London,” she said. “Now we’re just going through the tour and enjoying this celebration of the Olympics, and then after that we’ll get back in the gym and see how our training goes, and then just take everything one step at a time from there.”
Contributors: Gavin Sullivan of Loyola Academy and Marissa Page of U. of C. Lab