“She touched so many people of all generations, all diversities,” Shade said. “It’s her smile, it’s her youth, it’s her excitement for life. ... She transcends sport.”
Douglas’ story is both heartwarming and inspiring, its message applicable those young or old, male or female, active or couch potato. She was just 14 when she convinced her mother to let her leave their Virginia Beach, Va., home and move to West Des Moines, Iowa, to train with Liang Chow, Shawn Johnson’s coach. Though her host parents, Travis and Missy Parton, treated Douglas as if she was their fifth daughter, Douglas was so homesick she considered quitting gymnastics.
She’s also been open about her family’s financial struggles, hoping she can be a role model for lower income children.
“I want people to think, ‘Gabby can do it, I can do it,”’ Douglas said. “Set that bar. If you’re going through struggles or injuries, don’t let it stop you from what you want to accomplish.”
The grace she showed under pressure — both on and off the floor — added to her appeal. When some fans criticized the way she wore her hair during the Olympics, Douglas simply laughed it off.
“They can say whatever they want. We all have a voice,” she said. “I’m not going to focus on it. I’m not really going to focus on the negative.”
Besides, she’s having far too much fun.
Her autobiography, “Grace, Gold and Glory,” is No. 4 on the New York Times’ young adult list. She, Wieber and Fierce Five teammates Aly Raisman and McKayla Maroney recently wrapped up a 40-city gymnastics tour. She met President Barack Obama last month with the rest of the Fierce Five, and left the White House with a souvenir.
“We got a sugar cookie that they were making for the holidays,” Douglas said. “I took a picture of it.”