Steel City's golden pride in Gabby Douglas

Gold medal winner's grandparents are from Gary, Indiana

August 3, 2012

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(WBEZ/Michael Puente)
Family and friends of Gabby Douglas came out to cheer her on in Gary, Indiana on Thursday night.
(WBEZ/Michael Puente)
Gabby Douglas' grandparents, Theodore and Nadean Hawkins of Gary, Indiana.

No one would ever mistake Gary, Ind., for London, England.

But with loud “USA! USA!” chants going on, Hustle and Joe’s night club in Gary seemed like it was playing host to an Olympic event.

About a hundred folks came out to see the prime time telecast of the individual All-Around gymnastic competition. They were there to cheer on 16-year-old Gabby Douglas, whose mom, Natalie Hawkins, grew up in the gritty industrial town.

Gabby’s grandparents, Theodore and Nadean Hawkins, were the center of attention at Hustle and Joe’s as their granddaughter made history. 

“She didn’t win just one gold medal, but two,” an ecstatic Theodore Hawkins told WBEZ.

Douglas became  the first African American to win the gold medal in the All-Around competition for gymnastics.

“I feel like a proud grandfather,” Theodore Hawkins said. “I go to every meet she’s ever been in the United States.”

A retired steelworker, Hawkins oo’d and ah’d with every one of Gabby’s twists, turns and flips, as did everyone else in the room. Hawkins says he thinks his granddaughter is ready for all the attention that’s about to fall on her because of the historic win.

“My grandbaby, she’s ready for it because if she wasn’t she never would have did what she did. She showed the world that she is best,” Hawkins said. “And when you’re the best, you have to lead like the best.”

Wearing a red T-shirt with Gabby's nickname “Flying Squirrel” on it, Hawkins said he wishes he had flown to London to see Gabby perform. But instead, he helped raise the $47,000 needed to send Gabby’s mom and her two older siblings to see her perform in London.

Hawkins, a Vietnam veteran, is also part of the Veterans of Foreign Wars lodge in Gary, whose charitable arm AMVETS, took part in the fundraising.

The laidback Nadean Hawkins says she’s very proud of Gabby’s accomplishment. 

“I’m just so elated and happy for her,” Nadean Hawkins said. “She’s going to be very, very big. I don’t have words to describe it. The magnitude of it just keeps getting bigger and bigger.”

Other relatives and friends, young and old, came to support Gabby.

“It’s wonderful and truly amazing,” said Esther Hawkins Ayers, an aunt of Gabby’s. “She’s bigger than the Dream Team. She’s in the history books. You can’t get no better than that.”

Lisa Penn-Johnson, a longtime friend of Natalie Hawkins, says she’s been communicating with Natalie throughout the week on Facebook.

Natalie is very excited about Gabby and she’s been crying all week,” Penn-Johnson said.

Although Natalie Hawkins now lives in Virginia Beach, Virgina, Gabby has been living and practicing in Iowa for the past two years. Theodore Hawkins said he expects his granddaughter to visit Gary again soon.

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