More: Have you wrapped your head around the fact that your daughter has two Olympic gold medals around her neck?
Natalie Hawkins: In some ways I have, and in others I have not.
More: Does it seem real or still like a dream?
NH: I still feel like I am going to wake up and say, “Wow, that was the most real dream I have ever had.”
More: But it’s no dream. This is reality.
NH: I am feeling so much pride right now, I could just cry.
More: When did you know Gabby was Olympic-gold material?
NH: I always believed in Gabrielle. From the start I have always told her you could do whatever you set your mind out to do.
More: Does a particular memory stand out where you knew she would be here?
NH: I remember when we were watching the Beijing Olympics with [2008 gold medalist] Shawn Johnson and my other three children, and I looked at Gabrielle and said, “You can do that, too.” When Gabrielle saw some of the dance moves, I remember her saying, “I can never do that.” I immediately said, “Don’t ever say that.” I told her just say, “That looks like a hard skill and one I need to learn. I will never let Gabrielle limit herself.
More: Not only are you a single mom, but Gabrielle doesn’t live with you in Virginia Beach, Virginia. She lives with another family in Iowa where she trains. How do you handle the distance and providing for your other children?
NH: It is hard at times; I won’t lie. It is so hard to be away from her because I miss her so much. We are very close as a family. What hurts me the most is seeing the pain my other children go through because Gabby is away. As a mom, that is a big burden for me to carry.
More: What pulls you through those moments when you long to have Gabby home and can’t?
NH: I have made friends with the other moms at the gym, and they will send me videos of Gabby, even though her coach doesn’t allow it. They are my eyes. I can’t begin to tell you how much I appreciate those women for looking after my daughter and keeping me informed as to how she is. They always send me texts to make me feel like I am there despite the distance.
More: I am sure it’s hard because you need to be there for your other children.
NH: Getting those texts and videos really helped me during those down times. Of course, I really wish I could be there, but Gabrielle knows I have my eyes on her and on the scene. I mean, I sometimes feel like I got a call from my babysitter saying, “Natalie, your daughter Gabby just walked for the first time.” I feel like I miss those precious moments, which can be painful.
More: Where do you find the strength to put aside your own sadness and loneliness and raise three children plus an Olympic champion?
NH: I definitely rely a lot on my faith. I definitely feel that because I am a single mom, if I don’t rise to the occasion then who is going to be there for them and be their example of strength? If I fall apart, who will my children look to? I can’t fall apart; I have to keep it together for their sake.
More: But you must have had moments when you curled up and cried?
NH: I am human and, yes, there have been times the strain of everything has caught up with me. But I am a fighter and that is one title I can list next to my name. I may not be able to list “Olympian” next to my name, but I can put “fighter” up there. That is the one characteristic my children have constantly seen Mommy showcase. I am glad each one of them has taken that part of me and incorporated it into their lives.
More: So that’s a gene you want them to inherit from you?
NH: What makes me proud is if my children are having a bad day, they will say, “If my mom can get through this, then I can get through this.” If I can teach them that, then I am doing OK. When my children say they look up to me, that is priceless. It gives me energy, drive and determination to keep going.