Olympian Gabby Douglas Was Born Homeless & Lived in a Van – She Stays Strong despite Being Bullied for Her Hair
Olympian Gabby Douglas went through a difficult childhood before becoming a successful gymnast.As a professional athlete, Douglas has made lucrative deals through multiple endorsements.Behind the scenes, she endured a problematic childhood when her mom went bankrupt, and her father abandoned them.
Gabby Douglas was born Gabrielle Christina Victoria Douglas on December 31, 1995. She is a famous US gymnast who made a name for herself at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.Douglas grew up in Virginia, where she practiced as a gymnast since she was six. She’d copy the moves of her older sister, Arielle, a gymnast.
At 14, she and her family moved to Iowa, where she trained with famous gymnastics coach Liang Chow. Soon after, Douglas had people noticing her.Throughout this time, her schedule was so tight that she needed to undergo home school. Her mom worked double time to pay for her tuition.
Since the start, Douglas spent four to six hours each day at the gym. She spent six days at the gym per week, hoping to hone her craft some more.By 2010, things started shaping up for Douglas. She was making a name for herself; little did she know, it was about to get better for her.
In 2011, she placed seventh all-around and tied for third in the uneven bars competition. She was given a spot on the senior national team and helped the US earn gold at the 2011 World Championships.
US team coordinator Martha Karolyi nicknamed Douglas “the Flying Squirrel” at the world championships thanks to her athleticism and excellence in uneven bars. She and her fans embraced this nickname.
In the 2012 Visa Championships, Douglas lost the all-around gold to Jordyn Wieber. She won the all-around silver medal, gold on uneven bars, and bronze in the floor exercise.Douglas beat Wieber to claim the all-around title at the US Olympic trials. Her beating Wieber earned her a spot in the Olympic team.
Douglas and the rest of the US team in London won the first US women’s team gold medal since 1996. Douglas also won gold in the all-around event but failed to place in the balance beam and uneven bars competition.
The athlete wrote a memoir titled “Grace, Gold and Glory: My Leap of Faith.” In her memoir, Douglas wrote about how she and her family were homeless at one point.They lived in the back of their family van for almost a year when she was a baby. The family was taken in by relatives shortly after, and their mom raised four children on her own.
Douglas took two years off from competing professionally before returning to the national team in 2014. In 2015, she won gold in the team event and silver all-around at the artistic gymnastics competition. At the Rio Olympic Games the following year, she won gold with the rest of the team but did not win an individual medal.
Little did everyone know her break from competing professionally came from a deep trauma she’s been harboring for years. At the peak of her career following her 2012 Olympic stint, Douglas opened up about her difficult childhood before making it big.
Douglas’ Difficult ChildhoodDouglas’ father, Timothy, was a military man deployed in the Middle East when the gymnast was 9. Her mom raised her as a single mother and paid all their bills.
Timothy’s dad never paid for child support, which took a toll on her mother. By 2012, her mom Nathalie Hawkins filed for bankruptcy just when Douglas was about to become an Olympian.Despite her dad’s absence in her life, he showed up at the US Olympic Trials. He screamed her name and carried a US flag while beaming with pride.
Aside from her difficult childhood, Douglas experienced several difficulties while making her mark in gymnastics. In 2020, she spoke about the emotional journey she’s been on since entering the sport.
She needed to constantly put her hair in a tight ponytail at a young age to practice well. Through the years, this damaged her hair and resulted in hair loss. “I had bald spots on the back of my head,” she admitted in a candid post. “I was so embarrassed and self-conscious.”
A quick fix Douglas used to do was clip her hair where the bald spots were so they’d become unnoticeable. While her hair grew, it was so damaged that she had to cut all her hair off.
Douglas cried endlessly about her hair and the criticism other people received about it. Rather than focusing on her talent, people talked about her hair during the Olympics.
She Googled her name after the team’s final competition, and instead of seeing positive comments about her performance, she saw that people were complaining about her hair. It was then that she struggled with her mental health.
Another thing people gave her flack for was not putting her hand on her heart while singing the National Anthem during the 2012 Olympics. There were many other comments about her hair, disposition, and patriotism. “I wonder how many times I cried,” she said. “Probably enough to fill so many gallons of water.”
Years later, she was proud to announce that she no longer had issues with her hair. She no longer needed to use extensions, clip-ins, wigs, or chemicals.
However, by then, she had already endured the trauma of being ridiculed by her teammates and all those who followed her journey. She was mocked for her appearance and even her race by her former teammates.
Douglas had to endure being cruelly bullied by her teammates and former coaches while still in Virginia. She was taunted to get a nose job, and some teammates even called her “their slave.”
Years later, as a teenager hoping to make a name for herself, she continued to hear discriminatory messages even from people she did not know. Through it all, Douglas noted how women always had to put in more effort than men.
It’s been a silent past couple of years for Douglas, with many people wondering if the now-27-year-old will ever make a comeback. According to USA Gymnastics, she had not petitioned to take part in any of the 2023 events.
Despite this, Douglas has made her plans clear through her photos and videos on social media. She’s posted photos and videos of her training in the gym, saying:
“I know I have a huge task ahead of me and I am beyond grateful and excited to get back out on the floor. There’s so much to be said but for now… let’s do this.”
If Douglas plans to compete for a spot at the 2024 Paris Games, she’ll compete with fellow legend gymnast Simone Biles, who also made her plans to return clear. While Douglas is the first Black woman to win the highest individual Olympic gymnastics competition, Biles is the most decorated American gymnast, tied with Shannon Miller.