Gabby Douglas’s Mom Says She Is a Fighter

One day the world had no clue who Gabby Douglas was. Today the two-time Olympic-gold-medal gymnast is a household name, with millions of fans. Gabby credits her big win to her mother, Natalie Hawkins, who sacrificed everything to help her achieve her dream. At the P&G Family Home in London, MORE sat down with Natalie and learned why Mom is a lioness who will stop at nothing to protect her cubs. Read the edited version of our interview with her below

by Ilyssa Panitz • More.com Celebrity Reporter
gabby douglas olympics image
Natalie Hawkins (left), Gabby Douglas (center), Ilyssa Panitz (right)
Photograph: Ilyssa Panitz

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.

More: Has it been hard to be a single mom?
NH: At times I felt embarrassed to be a single mom. Especially in this sport of gymnastics, where many people involved are people of status, great wealth and a husband. I don’t have any of those things. I don’t have a job title that says CEO of a company or founder of this company. It was definitely hard at times to see where I fit in. Look, there are not a lot of people like Gabrielle that fit into this sport and not a lot of moms like me.

More: Like you?
NH: When I went to meetings, everyone is sitting there with their husbands and I am just by myself. I remember getting e-mails that say “Mr. & Mrs.” on the e-mail chain, and then my name just sits there all by itself. That was hard to overcome. But this is my story, and I am not embarrassed about it.

More: Back to your staying-strong theme.
NH: I am going to own each and every moment of it. This makes me who I am. I love me, and if you can’t love yourself, you are at a very strong disadvantage in life.

More: What do you tell your children when they ask questions about why things are the way they are?
NH:  You don’t have to be ashamed that you don’t come from a wealthy family. You don’t have to be ashamed that you are raised by a single mom. We have a wonderful relationship, which some families do not. I remind them that we are going to look at our strengths and not our weaknesses. I try to teach my children to focus on what we do have instead of on what we don’t have.

More: Sounds as if in some regards you have a lot.
NH: No, we haven’t had a lot. We have sacrificed so much to help Gabrielle stay in her sport. In terms of finances, I bought a very small townhome for us to live in. Although it was small, I did it on my own and I saved my money to pay the down payment. To be able to pay the mortgage every month and give my kids a place to call home was a big deal for me. That was a really big sense of accomplishment for me. It is so tough to purchase a home, maintain that by yourself and provide for four children. 

More: Was it stressful?
NH: It was a pleasure for me to be able to do that for them, but if I had my choice, I would never have done it as a single mom.

More: But there must be some pros?
NH: I own every part of it. I hope that my children are encouraged by what they have seen me do over the years, and it inspires them to achieve greatness in whatever they want to do. It is all about setting your mind to something and focusing on making it happen.

More: Did you give yourself a pep talk when you didn’t want your children to see you cry from all of the pressure?
NH: Not to focus on the negative. Focus on the dream, the possibilities, and push for that. I had to have an objective and push forward. I needed to focus on the decisions that needed to be made. Regardless of my darkest hour, I knew there are some people who have it worse than me. I had four children to take care of and four children who depend on me.

More: Now that Gabby is front-page news, so is your personal life. Financial records and your ex-husband’s troubles are becoming big stories. How do you respond to them?
NH: I saw those reports, and at first I was saddened because I thought the focus would be on Gabrielle and her incredible win. I never thought someone would dig deeper into my life and try to point out private details of my life. It hurt at first. No, it stung because I am a private person. But look, there are people who haven’t always been in our corner, so it is hard to trust outsiders. We definitely stuck together and said we can beat this.

More: You seem surprised by this curiosity of who is Gabby’s mom.
NH: I am not a celebrity. Why put my stuff out there in the public eye?

More: How are you handling it now?
NH: If I could help another mom—or a dad, for that matter—see what I went through then I am OK. I want them to see the struggles I went through as a single parent and used our loss to keep a roof over my children’s head, which is why I filed for bankruptcy. I needed to save my home. I had to go on medical disability, and my income was drastically reduced. Look, I had to do what I had to do to give my children a home. If something good comes out of this and my story helps others, yeah, I’ll take this hit.

More: You protected them.
NH: I took great pride in purchasing that home. Even though it is only 1,400 square feet, I gave my children a home. We build memories there. I am not ashamed of what I had to do to take care of my kids. They are happy, healthy, productive members of society and, in Gabrielle’s case, two-time Olympic-gold champions. Nothing could fulfill me more, give me more joy or make me happier than that.

next: Beezie Madden On Staying Fit and Not Slowing Down

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First Published Thu, 2012-08-09 19:38

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