Visiting Gary, Indiana isn’t anything new for Gabrielle “Gabby” Douglas.
Visiting Gary as an Olympic gold medalist champion is.
The 16-year-old was whisked from various places all over Gary pretty much all day Monday.
Her first stop in the late morning was to Indiana University Northwest where students, faculty and a host of Northwest Indiana-based organizations feted Douglas, along with her mother, Natalie Hawkins, and her grandparents, all natives of Gary.
Douglas said it was good to be back in the home where her mother grew up.
“It feels amazing to be here. This is my mom’s hometown and I just have so many great memories in Gary, Indiana,” Douglas said. “Every Thanksgiving I would come up here and celebrate with my mother’s family and have the best sweet potato pie.”
Douglas was raised in Virginia Beach, Virginia but visited Gary often and even practiced at local gyms.
Last summer, she won gold medals in both the individual and team all-around competitions at the Olympic Games in London.
She’s the first African-American to win gold in the individual all-around.
Douglas has become an inspiration to many young children who want to be just like her, including those from families with limited income.
She says don’t let a lack of money get in the way of pursing the sport.
“My advice is to keep pushing 100 percent and your sacrifices will always pay off. You need to keep fighting and just push yourself,” Douglas said.
Douglas says her grandparents, Theodore and Nadean Hawkins of Gary, continue to offer her advice.
“They tell me to go out there and have fun and show off my personality,” Douglas said.
Nadean Hawkins says she hopes her granddaughter gets the rest she needs.
“It’s been a whirlwind for her but I hope she gets rest,” Nadean said.
Douglas’ mother, Natalie, said it’s been a difficult journey for Gabby and the entire family, but it’s been worth it.
There were hard times that Gabrielle went through to get to where she is today. There were times she wanted to quit. So I just had to encourage her,” Natalie Hawkins said. “I told her she had a gold, a dream and now is not the time to quit. Now is the time to build up and run full force. … I am so incredibly inspired myself by her.”
While training can drain her, Douglas says when she has downtime, she likes to go to see movies, shop and just do what a normal teen will do.
“I’m just a 16 year old inside. I have boy crushes, I like shoes and fashion,” Douglas said.
Soon, Douglas will be making a guest appearance on the popular show The Vampire Diaries. Douglas continues to tour and hopes to make the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil.
Gabby Douglas, whose family nicknamed her the “Flying Squirrel” will be honored again on Monday night by the Gary Chamber of Commerce and will be a guest on the Gary-based TV talk show “Seven On Ridge.”