The Stunning Transformation Of Gabby Douglas

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Born on December 31, 1995, Gabby Douglas was just 16 when she caught the world's attention at the 2012 Olympics where she won gold in the all-around event, as well as team gold, as noted by Biography. Douglas won team gold again in 2016, cementing her status as an unforgettable Olympian. Per her biography at the Team USA website, Douglas has also made waves at the Gymnastics World Championships, winning team gold in 2011 and 2015 and a silver individual medal in the all-around in 2015.

Douglas' show at the 2012 Games thrust her into the public eye, where she handled her newfound celebrity with grace. She's grown up a lot since her early Olympic wins and, of course, even more so since she turned her first cartwheel as a toddler. From her early days on the gym floor to her life after finding Olympic fame, the transformation of Gabby Douglas has been quite the stunning one indeed.

Gabby Douglas turned her first cartwheel at the age of 3

Gabby Douglas' talent for gymnastics was apparent from a young age, although it would be a few years before she actually started training in the sport. As noted by Biography, Douglas learned her first moves from her older sister, Arielle, who was, herself, a gymnast. At the tender age of 3, the younger Douglas was turning cartwheels. By the time she was 4, she was doing those cartwheels one-handed.

Arielle convinced their mother, Natalie Hawkins, to enroll Douglas in gymnastics at the age of 6. While she was very young when she started her gymnastics training, Douglas remembers that first class, as she told Harper's Bazaar. "I was young and remember cutting people in line for the trampoline," she said.

Per the African American Literature Book Club, it wasn't long before she proved her skills. Just two years after beginning her formal gymnastics training, Douglas won Virginia's state gymnastics championship. She racked up more wins over the years, and it was soon evident that she wasn't just a talented gymnast, but a possible Olympic contender.

Gabby Douglas was bullied growing up

Discovering a huge talent at a young age gave Gabby Douglas a passion and direction for her life, but her childhood was still a difficult one. For years, Douglas dealt with bullying at her gym that was so bad she even considered leaving gymnastics altogether. In an interview with Oprah Winfrey on "Oprah's Next Chapter," Douglas opened up about the racist bullying she experienced (via Insider). The comments she received were awful, with teammates joking about her being their "slave." Douglas called the bullying "offensive." She said, "I would come home at night and just cry my eyes out. Like, 'What did I do to deserve this?'"

Douglas obviously didn't quit gymnastics, but she did switch gyms. Her mother said that the move was not "all racial" but that her daughter did feel "uncomfortable" there.

The gym where Douglas trained when the bullying took place, Excalibur Gymnastics, has denied the allegations. Its CEO, Gustavo Moure, said in a statement to E! News that her "remarks were hurtful and without merit," while an athlete who trained at the gym along with the mother of one of Douglas' former teammates also denied that anything negative had happened there.

Gabby Douglas left home at 14 to pursue gymnastics

By the age of 14, Gabby Douglas knew that for her to make it to the Olympics, she needed a change. She'd already been homeschooled for years to focus on her training, but the toxic environment she encountered in her experience at Excalibur Gymnastics, she felt, was holding her back. Instead, Douglas set her sights on training with Liang Chow, a coach who has worked with the likes of Shawn Johnson. "I've got to get a coach I can believe in, and who believes in me," the athlete told her mom (via Vanity Fair).

The catch? Chow's gym was in West Des Moines, Iowa — not exactly within commuting distance of her home in Virginia. Still, Douglas was determined to work with him, convinced he was a better fit for her than Excalibur Gymnastics' primary coach Gustavo Moure — the same person who denied her claims of being bullied, as noted by E! News.

Douglas' mom eventually agreed to let her move to Iowa, but the family couldn't afford to move with her. At 14, Douglas was too young to live on her own, but she was taken in by a foster family, the Partons. Missy Parton, whose mother had recently died, was happy to open her home to the teenager and became like a second mom to her. "God never took something away without filling the hole, without replacing it with something," she told The New York Times.

This is why Gabby Douglas almost quit gymnastics

Moving halfway across the country was not easy for the young Gabby Douglas. Not only did she feel seriously out of place as one of few Black people in West Des Moines, Iowa, as she told The New York Times, but she was also extremely homesick. In fact, her foster mother, Missy Parton, told Vanity Fair that Douglas missed her family so much that she considered going home after her family visited her over Christmas. Douglas also felt much anxiety about chasing her Olympic dream. "It was overwhelming to her that this was it, what she had been training for [nine] or 10 years," said Parton.

It would be years before Douglas opened up about the fears she faced on her road to the Olympics. "When I started this journey, I never knew what it took to get to the Olympics — I had a lot of self doubt," she said in a video for Time Firsts in 2017 (via People). "You have to believe that you're good enough and not give up."

Douglas eventually found the resolve to stick with her dream, no matter how tough the journey. "Once she made the decision 'I'm going to stay,' that was the moment of change within her," Parton told Vanity Fair. "A new form of Gabby came out."

Gabby Douglas became known as the 'Flying Squirrel'

Changing coaches turned out to be the right move for Gabby Douglas. Even before she headed to the Olympics in 2012, she had made a name for herself at the Pacific Rim Gymnastics Championships earlier that year where she came in first on the even bars, earning herself the nickname of the "Flying Squirrel," as noted by PopSugar. She also performed well at the 2012 AT&T American Cup where she was part of the U.S. team as an alternate. This means that her score didn't actually count, but it is noteworthy that she had the highest overall score of all official and unofficial competitors, reported ESPN.

Douglas' Olympic dreams were finally coming together, and she started to believe that she truly could make it to the Games. While she had hoped to make it to the Olympics, she told Teen Vogue, "It took a long time for me to see my own potential" and that she didn't really start believing in herself until only a few months before Olympic Trials. "Finally something clicked and I knew I could be one of the best," she said. "It was a game changer. Now I'm like, 'I am going for this. I'm going for it all.'"

She was right. At the Trials, not only did Douglas make the U.S. team, but she also took first place, as noted by Bleacher Report.

In 2012, Gabby Douglas made Olympic history

Ahead of the 2012 Olympic Trials, Gabby Douglas told Seventeen that she hoped making the team as an African American woman "would ... inspire people and inspire a nation." She added, "I would love to be a role model."

She couldn't have known then just how big of a role model she would become, especially since she wasn't the favorite to win gold at the Olympics. When asked about her chances, former U.S. gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi said that he didn't think she'd be able to beat Jordyn Wieber, whom he referred to as "a machine" (via Bleacher Report).

Douglas proved the naysayers wrong, however. Not only did she help her team win gold, but she also won gold in the all-around — making her the first woman of color to do so. "It was just insane knowing that I had spent my whole life dreaming about this one specific goal and achieved it," she told Teen Vogue.

The historical impact of Douglas' win was not lost on her. She told the African American Literature Book Club that she was happy for the win because it meant "all the hard work, sacrifice, and effort" had paid off, as had the sacrifices her family had made for her. "It also means a lot to me ... Not many girls in gymnastics look like me, so I'm honored and delighted to put a new face on the sport."

Gabby Douglas became an author

After winning gold at the 2012 Olympics, Gabby Douglas turned her efforts to writing. Her Olympic journey was an inspiring one, and she shared that story with her many fans in the book "Grace, Gold, and Glory: My Leap of Faith," which was written with Michelle Burford. Per its Amazon listing, the autobiography "chronicles Gabrielle's journey from her first practice to becoming a 2012 gold-winning U.S. gymnast."

The following year, Douglas released another book called "Raising the Bar," which she described to the African American Literature Book Club as a sort of "picture book for younger readers" that was "all about my life now, since the Olympics."

Douglas told the outlet that she had long been interested in writing, keeping a number of diaries over the years. While she had never finished those diaries, she became determined to share her story after the Olympics because she wanted "to let anyone facing hardships know that your dream is still possible."

Gabby Douglas branched out to acting

Gabby Douglas proved her talent not only for acrobatics but also for performance at the 2012 Olympics. After finding fame, she used those talents to launch an acting career, starting with a small appearance in a 2012 episode of "The Vampire Diaries."

While Douglas' acting resume isn't bursting with credits, she has proven herself to be just as agile of an actress as she is a gymnast. Her other acting roles include episodes of "Nicky, Ricky, Dicky & Dawn" and "Helpsters." Douglas also appeared in the TV movie "Love, of Course" and the film "Same Difference." Her most notable role, though, is playing herself in the 2014 Lifetime movie "The Gabby Douglas Story." In fact, Douglas had always hoped to play herself if a movie was made about her life, telling the African American Literature Book Club the year before that she would want to star as herself "to be sure to capture my personality and my style."

It's possible that we'll see Douglas take on more roles in the future. In 2013, she told The Wall Street Journal that she had show business aspirations, saying, "I want to do all roles. The sky's the limit." In 2017, NBC Sports reported that she had enrolled in acting classes, hoping to become a movie star. Douglas compared acting to gymnastics, telling the outlet, "It's the same, but different. You have to expose your vulnerability a little bit in acting classes."

Gabby Douglas landed her own reality show

Gabby Douglas is no stranger to television. Outside of the Olympics and her acting career, she's also starred in a reality show about her and her family. The short-lived series from Oxygen, titled "Douglas Family Gold," lasted only one season, with six episodes that aired in 2016. The show doesn't just follow Douglas and her family as they support her gymnastics career, but it also covers other milestones, such as her high school graduation. According to Oxygen's Executive VP of Original Programming and Development, the show set out to explore Douglas' "inspirational family who doesn't let any obstacles stand in their way" (via Vibe).

While the show doesn't appear to have been formally canceled, no episodes have aired since 2016. Who knows what the future holds, though? Perhaps we'll see more episodes of "Douglas Family Gold" in the future or even another reality show about the talented athlete.

Heading to the 2016 Olympics, Gabby Douglas had high hopes

Fans had high hopes for Gabby Douglas at the 2016 Olympics, while Douglas, herself, set out to defend her all-around title. "I love the challenge," she told Teen Vogue ahead of the Games. "I love to push limits. I feel like I haven't reached my full potential yet."

Unfortunately, Douglas' performance at the 2016 Olympics was not as impressive as her 2012 run, although it was a technicality that kept her from defending her title, as noted by Biography. While Douglas came in third in the qualifying rounds of the all-around, two of her teammates, Aly Raisman and Simone Biles, scored higher. Due to a rule that only two gymnasts per team can compete in an event, Douglas was unable to go for the gold. She did compete in the uneven bars and beam competitions, though, coming in eighth and seventh. While her scores didn't earn her an individual medal, they did help her team win the gold.

While Douglas was disappointed, she didn't seem bitter about her performance. In a post-Games interview (via The Washington Post), she admitted she had "pictured it differently." Still, she remained stoic, saying, "I'm just going to take this experience as a really good, positive one."

Gabby Douglas later spoke out against abuse

In 2017, dozens of gymnasts came forward about being sexually abused by Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics team doctor. Gabby Douglas found herself embroiled in controversy after Aly Raisman, one of the women who came forward, tweeted a lengthy message, taking a stand against "victim shaming." In response, Douglas tweeted Raisman (via Sports Illustrated), telling women they have a "responsibility ... to dress modestly and be classy," warning them against "provocative/sexual" clothing which "entices the wrong crowd."

Several people called Douglas out for the tweet, including teammate Simone Biles who tweeted, "I expected more from you." Douglas quickly apologized in a tweet, saying she "didn't correctly word my reply" and affirmed her support for the victims.

Days later, Douglas revealed the abuse she experienced, again apologizing for her initial response to Raisman. "I didn't publicly share my experiences ... because for years we were conditioned to stay silent and honestly some things were extremely painful," she wrote on Instagram. Douglas didn't go into detail, but a spokesperson for the gymnast told The Washington Post that Douglas was "confirming that she too was a victim."

Per ESPN, Nassar is serving separate sentences for sexual assault and inappropriate photos of children. He is expected to spend the rest of his life in prison.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Gabby Douglas won this reality competition

You don't have to know much about Gabby Douglas to know that she's a star, but even if you didn't follow her during the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, her 2021 run on "The Masked Dancer" — a spinoff of "The Masked Singer" — would prove that to you. The show, like the singing competition, features celebrities performing in elaborate costumes which conceal their faces. Douglas danced her heart out week after week on the show, eventually coming away with the crown.

After her identity was revealed, to the delight of the audience, she told host Craig Robinson that she had "never done anything like this before" (via Gold Derby). Said Douglas, "I've never trained with a mask on. This was my first time performing and not being judged. I had so much fun and I'm so grateful and so honored."

Douglas' performance on the show had fans wondering if she'd ever consider competing for the Mirror Ball Trophy on "Dancing with the Stars." Douglas hinted that it's possible, but that she had actually turned down appearing on the competition multiple times in the past. As she explained to Hollywood Life, "The Masked Dancer" is much more her jam because "it's more about having fun than dancing and ... not about judging and criticism or even denying." Douglas added, "It's literally going outside yourself and inspiring people in their daily lives."

Has Gabby Douglas retired?

Does Gabby Douglas have plans to compete in the future? Per The Sun, she hasn't formally announced her retirement, but she also didn't compete in the Olympic Trials for the Tokyo Olympics. In 2017, she told NBC Sports that she was taking a break from gymnastics, but did appear to be keeping her options open. She said that her dream had been "to go to two Olympics," so it's possible that, having met that goal, she's not eager to get back to the grind.

While she hasn't returned to training, it should be noted that Douglas doesn't appear to have filed paperwork to remove herself from the drug testing agency that tracks Olympic athletes — something that typically indicates an official retirement.

Olympic gymnasts typically retire young, with most hanging up their leotards by their early 20s, per Bustle. That doesn't mean that we won't see Douglas making a comeback, though. As Insider pointed out, Oksana Chusovitina headed to the Tokyo Olympics — her eighth time competing in the Games — at the age of 46. That's what we like to see!