The rags-to-riches story of Olympic gold medalist Gabrielle “Gabby” Douglas is something that sounds like it is right out of a movie. And now, at the young age of 18, Douglas has had a movie made about her life: “The Gabby Douglas Story,” which premieres on Lifetime on Feb. 1, 2014. (Imani Hakim plays the teenage Douglas, while Sydney Mikayla plays the pre-adolescent Douglas.) A prodigy from a very young age, Douglas originally made her mark on the world of competitive gymnastics at age 8. She won numerous state championship titles in her age group throughout her early competitive career.
While her star was fast rising in the arena, Gabby and her family faced economic challenges at home and she made the difficult decision to leave her mother, Natalie Hawkins (played by Regina King), three siblings and grandmother in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and move to Des Moines, Iowa, to train with renowned coach Liang Chow (played by Brian Tee) to pursue her dream of Olympic glory.
Buoyed by her early success, dedication and unyielding love from her family, Douglas made it onto the 2012 U.S. Women’s Gymnastics team, with whom she faced intense competition in the London Games. Her sacrifice and perseverance were triumphantly rewarded with Team Competition and Individual All-round gold medals, placing Douglas and her teammates — known as “The Fierce Five” — among the world’s all-time greats in gymnastics. Here is what Douglas said in a telephone conference call with journalists to promote “The Gabby Douglas Story.”
What were your first reactions when you were approached to do a film about your life?
When I was approached to do a film about my life story I said yes because it’s kind of different from the book. You actually get to see the challenges and the struggles and my life story and in movies so I was like, “Absolutely!” It sounded like a very amazing opportunity so my family and I said yes. And during the whole movie it was a really cool and fun process.
They had to pick the younger siblings and then the older siblings so it was really cool. I got to see a gymnastic set and it was just like the competition like a Visa championship to a podium competition. So it was really fun but I never thought a movie would come out about my life story.
What did you find challenging about this? Was it learning how to act or was it being in the moment?
Actually, I didn’t play me. Someone else portrayed me … I appear in the beginning of the movie.
But you didn’t have to study any lines or anything for the role?
What is it that you’d like to say to everyone who has become such a big fan and supporter of you and your work?
Everyone who has been a fan, I’d have to say, Thank you guys so much.” It’s definitely been an amazing journey and I have to thank my fans for the support and for the loving and caring and always being there and them being true to themselves. I’m so glad to have this platform to tell them that you can achieve anything that you in life that you want to achieve. I just tell them just to believe in themselves.
It must be really cool and gratifying to have a film about your life. How involved were you behind the scenes? Did you get to be involved in casting who’s playing you? Did you get to advise them on points of your life or how to do certain tumbles, certain gymnastic moves or were you sort of just like a spectator that put together your story for you?
You know, I was pretty much involved. Me and my mom were involved. Lifetime kept us in the loop with everything. They would send us the script, what do you think or they’d send us who was portraying us and they’d send me Imani’s line. She’d do some lines on camera and they’d send them over to us to see how she’d act and we said yes. Yes, we were kept in the loop and went on the set and I’d give my input about how this move would be done or how this competition would be. For the most part, they had it right too so we were pretty much in the loop.
And what did you think of the performances of the actresses playing you both athletic and as actors?
As actors and as athletes I thought they did an amazing job. Sydney, the character who played the younger Gabby Douglas — the younger version of me — I thought she did an excellent job. She was flipping everywhere, tumbling. She was so bubbly and energetic and I was definitely like that when I was very young. And also, Imani, she played a very well version of me when I was older. I kind of took life a little bit too seriously, which she played well and then at the end I started to become very open and just very outgoing.
There’s been a lot of talk of all the extra security precautions at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. What do you remember about what security when you were at the 2012 Summer Olympics?
You’re not allowed to leave [the Olympics Village] but I wouldn’t be worried and focus on all that. I’d just be focused on what I had to do and just be focused on my events and stuff. Even in the environment we’re trained to adapt and we’re trained to not to focus on what the world says out there or if it’s not safe or if it’s not such a comfortable environment. We’re just focused on how to adapt and how to deliver at that right moment.
So you think they’ll do everything they can to make sure all the athletes and competitors are safe?
Yes. I think they’ll do what they need to keep their athletes safe and comfortable.
Are you going to be hoping to go to the Olympics in Rio in 2016?
Yes. I’m training right now and everything’s going smoothly and hopefully I’ll be competing by this year and yes, the main goal is 2016.
Is there anything from your book that you would’ve liked to see in the movie that didn’t make it?
No, not really because the movie and the book kind of kind of save each other but then the movie kind of has a little bit more like intense parts. You actually get to see how we were living in the beginning and how everything was. But I’m really satisfied with the movie, how it came out.
Now that you’re seeing behind the scenes and the inner workings of Hollywood, do you have a desire to go into this field after your athletic career is over?
Sure. Yes, acting is fun. I’ve gone to a couple TV shows and I’d definitely want to pursue it.
What is your favorite song or songs that you’re listening to on your training now?
I like upbeat music. I like to listen to Katy Perry or Beyoncé or Taylor Swift.
Can you sing?
Can you talk about your faith journey, when you became a Christian and how that relationship with God has impacted both your life and your gymnastics?
Faith plays a big role in my life and it started when I was very young. My mom involved my siblings and [me]. She introduced us into the Bible and about Jesus and it’s been a part of my life for such a long time. It plays a big role in my life and we do Bible studies and if you watch the Olympics footage or any footage and you can see my mouth moving, that’s me praying. I always have to pray before a competition or before I’m about to compete.
So when you’re praying and you’re prepping for the competition, what’s your conversation look like with God? Are you praying for gold? Are you praying for no injuries?
Kind of both. I just pray that I have a good routine and it’s a flowed and safe routine and all my skills are just beautiful and are exquisite, that kind of thing.
And you had mentioned before that you said were bullied or kind of had some hard times. What advice would you give to somebody who maybe feels defeated or feels like others are trying to hold them down to make themselves be better?
If they’re being bullied I’d tell them to speak up, tell an adult or a friend and if you feel like you’ve been defeated just keep going. And I know that may sound like, “What, keep going? But I’m so down.” I had a point in my life when I had my ups and downs.
Six months out before the Olympics, I wanted to quit because I was at my lowest point and I was homesick and things in the gym were getting really hard for me since it was pressed time downtime because of the Olympics, and I wanted to quit and work at Chick-fil-A or do another sport. But it was my foundation that kept me on track of saying “Hey, please don’t give up.” So guys, if you feel defeated keep going. You don’t want to look back and have regrets. Just keep pushing through and you guys can do it.
With the book and the movie and other appearances that you do, why do you feel a responsibility or an importance in sharing your story with others?
I just want them to see, of course, my life story, but I want them to see that things are possible. And I went through some things in my life that were very difficult and I went through struggles and I want them to see that it is possible. And if they’re going through something in their life I want them to know that they can overcome it.
Your faith was absent from the majority of the film. Do you see it that way or have any comment on that?
You know, in real life it’s still there but in the movie I think it’s really focused on my life story. I don’t really feel like it’s distant.
What about the bullying issue? In the film we see the actress portraying you explaining that your mom had told you to let her know if anybody had ever said anything and later she asked her mother about her nose. But otherwise, you really don’t see any concerns about bullying or any of the issues regarding your hair or other things that you commented on in other interviews. Any thoughts on why the bullying didn’t play a major part in the movie?
I explained on it a couple of times in the media. Me and my mom and people that were in the loop with the movie, we just felt like we didn’t want to touch on it again because it’s like the movie’s something more like the challenges and the difficulties and we didn’t want to put the hair issue in there because we really weren’t focused on what people had to say about my hair. It was the road to London.
Did you donate any personal items to the film like posters from your bedroom or leotards that we saw the actress wear or any other props?
I don’t know if I donated any personal things.
You’re working for “Inside Edition” at Super Bowl XLVIII this year. How do you prepare for that kind of a gig? And are you nervous at all?
Yes. I’m a correspondent for “Inside Edition” for the Super Bowl, and I’m really excited because I’m a really big fan of football. I’m just a little sad that my team didn’t make it but it’s all good, maybe next year. I’m a Patriots fan.
I’m on the field and I’m going to have such a fun time. This is going to be my first time at the Super Bowl. It’s going to be so different because I’ve always been sitting at home watching it so it’s going to be just different but I’m really excited about it.
How do you prepare for something like that?
I don’t know. I’m just going to be myself and just enjoy my time out on the field.
Do you have any predictions for the game?
There’s been this constant buzz about if you’ll ever do “Dancing With the Stars.” You said you wanted to do it. What’s the holdup? Have they not invited you or is it a time scheduling thing?
It’s kind of a scheduling thing. I’m training now so it’s kind of difficult to do something on the side because training is what I’m focused on really right now.
But it is something you’d like to do down the road?
How were you first approached about doing a TV-movie about your life?
I think they approached my mom or my agent, my manager, and then my mom told me that Lifetime wanted to do a movie and we all agreed and said yes. It was really exciting and it’s a great opportunity to see my life on film. It’s really cool but at the same time it’s a little overwhelming.
What was it like meeting Regina King, who plays your mother in “The Gabby Douglas Story”?
She is amazing. She’s such a doll and she played my mom so well. Me and my sister were joking around, “Mom she even played a better you.” That’s how we were saying she did. She did a fantastic job portraying my mom and she was definitely on point.
What are you most interested in seeing at the 2014 Winter Olympics?
I’m really looking forward to seeing figure skating.
What was it like standing on the podium when you were accepting your gold medal?
It was truly such an honor to stand on the podium. All I could think about was the effort in the gym, determination and sacrifice that me and my family have put in the gym. It finally paid off.
Has it sunk in, just the magnitude of what you’ve accomplished in your life at such a young age?
I think it’s still sinking in. When I was at the Olympics and I had won, a lot of people were saying it’s not going to sink in until you get back home. And when I got back home I think at that point it was still sinking in because I had a lot of fans and media and it was just amazing of all the people that were there and rooting for me and it was an incredible feeling. And I think it’s really going to sink in when I’m a little bit older and I see the impact I fully made.
So when people see this movie on Lifetime and they get to experience your story and all of the emotion and the passion that lies in it, what do you hope that they walk away with in the end? Is it inspiration or what’s the message you hope that resonates with people?
I just hope that they’ll become inspired and motivated in their own lives and to think OK if she can do it then I can do it. If she can overcome the obstacles that she overcame then I can overcome this one in my life and I’m going to go after my dream and achieve my goals and I won’t let anything or anyone stop me. So I just want them to be inspired.
What do you consider the best piece of advice that someone gave to you? And who was the person who gave it to you?
I think my brother and my mom. I remember when I was at my lowest point and I wanted to quit, work at Chic-fil-A fast food restaurant or enjoy a different sport and they told me just to keep fighting and just don’t give up. And I remember my mom saying, “I don’t want you to have regret. I don’t want you to come home and be sitting on the couch and be watching the Olympics and say, ‘I wish I would’ve been there.’” She’d just say, “Just stick it out. Just push through and you can do it. And hey, if I didn’t make it at least we could all say we gave it our best shot.”
Why did you consider working at Chic-fil-A if your quit gymnastics?
They have good sandwiches. They have really good food.
What direction or industry do you want to go in now?
I think right now I’m really focusing on training. I really want to compete by this year and hopefully you guys will see me. And I know my main goal is in the Olympics 2016 in Brazil so I’m training really hard for that. That’s one of my main targets right now.
Can you give some type of insight into what your training routine is like?
You’re so right because people don’t see any training or training sessions. They only see out on the competition floor where a beautiful masterpiece, a beautiful routine, a beautiful makeup. But behind the scenes there’s a lot that goes in.
I do six days a week. I have Sundays off and I do about four to six hours in the gym depending on what day it is because sometimes my gym schedule is different each day. And man, it’s just intense. A lot of numbers, doing it over and over and over again. It’s just challenging in the gym, and it’s very tough.
Gabby, your name has become a brand. How do you separate Gabby the person from Gabby the brand? How much input do you have in on how you’re marketed? What is it that you use to keep yourself grounded as much as you are?
I’m really blessed to have such a supportive family I do and they definitely keep me grounded. My sisters, my brother, my mom, we were just raised up just being humble and my mom taught us to never forget where you came from. So my mom, definitely, I’d have to say raised us well and my faith also keeps me grounded and humble and I think it’s all sorts of things.
Gymnastics, it keeps me humble too, down to earth because I realize when I start getting cocky and being like yes I can do this, I start messing up more. So in gymnastics, you have to be very disciplined. So it’s all the different sorts of things that keep my head from being too blown up.
Is there one thing that if you could just pull that one moment you could go back and live as a regular young girl or prom? Is there anything you miss or has it all been worth the sacrifices to accomplish what you’ve accomplished?
It’s all been worth the sacrifice and my mom also taught me and my siblings too about perspective. I used to get mad when I didn’t go school shopping. I’m like, “Why am I not going school shopping or picking out school outfits?” And my mom was like, “Gabrielle, not everyone gets to go Italy for a competition” and I’m like, “You know what? You’re so right.”
So I had to change my perspective and people invite me to proms or homecoming dances so I get to feel like normal. I get to experience what the prom life is like or me and my friends hang out at the mall or have sleepovers. When I was younger, I was like, “Well, I kind of want to be normal,” but growing up I realized that I kind of get to experience both sides.
You’ve said, “Today should always be better than yesterday.” Is that something your mom would actually say that to you?
Yes. She used to tell us back to the quote to Scriptures.
How do you live by that quote today?
I live by that quote because I feel like yes the day before or today should be better than the day before and I use that in gym a lot. It’s just motivation that keeps me going. You have to find something that motivates you, that drives you to want to do the thing that you love. The Olympics is driving me to in the gym and bust my butt every single day in the gym, just give 100 percent.
How has life changed for you and your family since winning the gold medals?
Wow. Life has changed so much for us and we’re just so blessed and so honored. I’m really honored that they could be a part of this journey too and life is just different. It changed so fast.
The world was like, “Who is Gabby Douglas?” and then I won the Olympics and it was like an overnight celebrity thing. It was just like, “Who was Gabby Douglas?” to everyone knowing who Gabby Douglas is. I never thought it’d happen so fast.
Did your family ever say, “I told you so”?
Yes. Not I told you so but they believed in me and even when I didn’t believe in me they believed in me and I had to really believe in myself and believe that I could do it. But at the end, yes, they were kind of like see, we told you. You have to believe in yourself and yes, it was great, just having people around you that believe in yourself when you don’t and they inspired me to believe in myself.
If you could choose any song to be the soundtrack of your life at any moment of your life, what song would you pick?
“Sitting in the Hall of Fame” is a good one. And I’d pick “Girl on Fire.”
What are some challenges that you face in your life that aren’t depicted in film?
Some of the challenges with me when I was growing up, at one point my family and I were homeless. I had to move away at 14 years old to go to Iowa to train with a very special coach I saw on TV. And competing on injuries or training on injuries.
You’ve accomplished so much already at such a young age. What are some of your goals moving forward?
Thank you. Some of my goals are just to keep competing and just still being in the world of gymnastics, keep training. And one of my main goals this year is to compete this year and yes, that’s one of my main goals. I just want to be back out there and back at it again.
And you said you were training for 2016 Olympics. What would say is the most important thing that you’ve learned from the last Olympics that you’re kind of taking with you?
I’ve learned just to keep going even though when the days are really hard in the gym. I still have to take that in. When I’m having a really hard day I have to learn how to keep pushing through because if I can get through that one day — that hard day — then on the easiest day it’d be so easy so I have to keep reminding myself to just keep pushing through.
What would you say has been the most rewarding experience that’s happened to you since the Olympics?
It’s so hard to pick a favorite because all the opportunities that I’ve done or experienced, it’s just been so fun for me. It’s been a blast. And I’m super excited about being a correspondent for “Inside Edition.” I’m very excited about that.
When you get a chance to meet some of the young girls that want to be gymnasts and want to go to the Olympics, what are the main things they ask you?
Some ask me, “Do have any advice on the backhand spring? Or some say, “You’ve inspired me.” Some moms would say, “You inspired my daughter to keep going.”
Where do you keep your Olympic medals?
I don’t take them to parties because they’re kind of heavy and if I wear both of them they kind of like cling together. Once in a while, I’ll take them out and look at them and be like, “Wow.” But I just kind of leave them in the boxes because I just don’t want the ribbon to fray — or if I drop it I don’t want it to break, but I do look at them every once in a while.
Is there one routine or something that you’re working on more than the others or anything training for 2016 or have you got that far ahead yet?
No. I’m working on all four events like normal.
Lifetime is launching a contest inviting schools to take part in the Gabby Douglas Raise the Bar Pledge. How did that become about?
First of all, the title “Raising the Bar” is very powerful because you want to raise the bar and it pertains to life in general. And we thought it’d be a great idea people could also raise the bar in their life so I think that’s how the pledge came about.
What do you wear when you’re not in the gym working out or you’re out there winning gold medals? What’s your favorite style?
I’m really getting into crop top shirts with a skirt or long skirts with a short sleeve top or I do tank tops or long sleeve shirts with jeans or combat boots.
Do you have a favorite brand that you usually turn to?
I love BCBG or Bebe.
Have you considered a Gabby Douglas brand of clothing for K-mart of Target? Has it ever crossed your mind?
That is a great idea. Yes, I just ponder on those things like what if I can have a fashion line or some other line. Yes, those thoughts have definitely crossed my mind.
Did you get a chance to talk to Imani Hakim and tell her about your personality so she could really capture you? Did you share any pet peeves or some of your stranger habits?
I did. We texted and talked on the phone. She was asking questions like, “How do you want me to really capture you in the movie?” I just gave her some pointers, a couple tips. So we chatted back and forth.
What was the strangest tip you gave her about yourself?
I don’t think there was really any strange tips.
Did you tell her anything about your personality?
Yes and she watched interviews that I’ve done, and she would see how I would act. I was very bubbly, but I also told her I’m kind of serious. When I was in the elite world I took myself seriously, but when I was older I started to realize just have fun and enjoy, enjoy the competition.
Do you feel any pressure to defend your title or how are you going into the 2016 Summer Olympics? What’s your mindset?
My mindset is I’m not Gabby Douglas. I’m not a big champion in my mind. I’m just going to think I’m another girl vying on that spot for 2016 and I’m just another girl competing for USA, and hopefully I’ll do the best that I can. But I’m just going into it with that mindset, just being humble and grounded.
Do you have a celebrity crush that maybe you can meet while you’re working as a correspondent?
That’s a good question. Well I don’t know if you all know but my sort of crush is Ian Somerhalder but I sort of like Dave Franco.
What would you say to someone who is doubting God’s plan for their life?
I’d say, “Don’t doubt, and trust.” I had to stop with the “what ifs.” I’m like, “What if I don’t make it?” I had to stop with that and just believe. If you just trust and believe then everything’s going to be OK.
I’m on the beam and I’m thinking, “My gosh, what if I fall? I’m going to fall.” Then I’m going to fall because I’m thinking it. I would tell those teams just don’t doubt and just believe.
And did you ever face any opposition or ridicule in practicing your faith as an athlete? What advice would you give to someone who does face opposition? Has anyone ever made fun of you for your belief in God or for praying or anything?
Not that I’ve really come across. A lot of people have been really coming up to me and thank you for saying all the stuff that you did about your faith and if someone’s going through that then I’d tell them pay no mind to that person who’s making fun of you. Keep to your own residual and whatever works for you just keep doing it and who knows? Maybe down the road if that team is praying they can inspire other teams to pray or say motivational things to help them.
When you decided to leave your home at 14 and moved to Iowa to train, what went into this decision and how did it affect you then mentally moving forward? Did you feel like this pressure that you’re the golden child from your family, and if you fail you’re going to think you’re a failure?
No, moving to Iowa was my decision. I was so ready to go because I was like I’m ready for a new chapter. I’m really excited. I get to train with this coach that I’ve been wanting to train with and I was so ecstatic about moving and about the new journey. But then when I got there I realized, I was like, “My goodness, what did I do? My family’s not here. My siblings aren’t here.”
I was really sad and I just had to come to my senses that it was my choice because I wanted to quit and I remember just crying and crying every single day for a couple months. And I said to myself, “I have to suck it up because I made this decision. If I want to go to the Olympics I’m going to have to push it. If I want my dream to become my reality I’m really going to have to go 100 percent in the gym.”
I didn’t think about failing or falling or what if I family thinks I’m a failure. My family is supportive all the way. If I’d mess up they would comfort me and still be loving and supporting. And in gymnastics you can’t really think about the negative side. You always have to think what came out of it, the positive note.
At that time, you lived with a host family. How did that come about and did they share your same beliefs? Did that make it easier and then what’s your relationship like with that host family today?
We still talk and we’re very close. Liang Chow reached out to us saying that there’s a host family. They often open up a home so we went with them and it was such a blessing that they opened up their home that I could stay there. And they’re believers too, so it did make it easier because I could just pull out my Bible or we went to church on Sundays. I had so much fun with that family and with the girls. I’m so glad that they could be a part of the journey.
You have so many great fans on Twitter and social media sites. Why is it such an important place for you to connect with your fans?
I think it’s so important for me to connect with my fans to tell them or share with them some advice or just to keep them in the loop. I love to chat with them on social media or if they’re through something in their life I can help them.
You’ve gotten many offers from fans to go to proms and things like that and you apparently have one devoted fan named Leon Pervitz, who’s really excited to take you out. Is that something you’d be interested in? Do you see yourself possibly dating a fan in the future?
Wow, that’s a good question. I have no clue. I don’t know. I can’t answer that one.
Is there anything that you’d like to leave your fans with one impression after watching “The Gabby Douglas Story”? What is the message you’d really like them to take from it?
I would really love for them to take away just to be motivated in their life and say, “Hey, if she can do it, then I can do it.” And if they’re trying to overcome something in their life I want them to see that it’s possible. You can overcome these challenges and still fight for your dreams and go after your goals.
For more info: “The Gabby Douglas Story” website