Many in Black America questioned the mainstream media’s preference in calling her mother, Natalie Hawkins, a single mom, when her father, Timothy Douglas, a US Air Force sergeant stationed abroad who was deployed when Gabby was just 9-years-old, clearly loves her and supports her in spite of his pending divorce from her mother.
To counteract the dead-beat Black father stereotype, several outlets posted glowing stories about how much Douglas loved his daughter and had always been there for her, even when he was doing the honorable thing by serving his country. Surprising his daughter in California after a two-year absence when she qualified for the Olympics in June, he proudly waved the US flag and screamed his support. She does not hesitate to give him credit for helping her cross that hurdle and said his surprise appearance “made [her] night”:
“I’m like, ‘Who’s calling my name?’ And then I look up. It was my dad and his friend, and I haven’t seen him in a while,” Gabby said. “They were holding up the flag. And I almost felt like bawling. I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, Dad!’”
Douglas is a structural craftsman and a traditional Guardsman, who serves one weekend a month and two weeks every year, unless he is called to active duty, reports the Daily Mail. “Deployed to Southwest Asia in 2003, 2006 and 2011, with each tour lasting about eight months,” he rarely saw his daughter and that is a heartache for many military families.
“There’s a feeling that you can’t describe,” the elder Douglas told USA Today after the reunion. “I just missed her so much.
“There’s an exuberance,” he continued. “Sometimes, when she had a rough time, I’d tell her to hang in there. ‘You know what it takes to be a winner, you know what your goals are. You just keep on your goals.’ Some things that I tell her I have to remind myself. Those are all things we can all abide by.”
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It’s definitely a feel good story, but according to Gabby, their relationship is definitely not devoid of turmoil.
“It was really hard for us growing up—my dad had left us, so he wasn’t really in the picture anymore,” said Douglas to the New York Post.
“So my mom had to front all these bills. My dad didn’t really pay the child support. He was short [on money]. It was definitely hard on her part, and she had to take care of me and the rest of my siblings.”
In a story discussing the difficult financial circumstances of Gabby and fellow Olympian Ryan Lochte, USA Today reports that Hawkins receives approximately $2,500 a month from a combined Social Security disability benefits and child support. US News further delves into the financial strain of Olympic parents, reporting that even though they were facing foreclosure and have been sued by the mortgage company, Lochte’s parents still supported their son’s dreams. The same obviously can be said for Natalie Hawkins and — at pivotal points in his daughter’s life — Timothy Douglas.
Though they came to London, Sgt. Douglas, his brother and parents were not able to get tickets to see his daughter’s gold medal winning performance, said Alfred Puryear, public affairs officer for the Virginia National Guard. Sadly, according to Gabby, she has not been able to speak with him since she leaped into the history books.
Attempting to keep the exhilarating Olympic momentum going, the young star faltered on the balance beams, slipping and falling to the mat before finishing seventh with a score of 13.633. She struggled throughout the competition — “I rushed myself” — and sat quietly while the results were being read.
Still, she did not bow her head in defeat, instead reflecting on the event like a true champion.
“We’re not losers,” Douglas said, after receiving a 13.166 on her beam routine, nearly two points behind gold medalist Linlin Deng of China. “We’re superheroes. We do tricks no one can do.
“We’re all humans,” Douglas continued. “We all make mistakes. We’re 16-year-olds and have a lot of pressure on our shoulders. That’s kind of a lot for a teenager.”
Taking time to congratulate her teammate, Aly Raisman, who won bronze and gold medals, she let it be known that she was still proud of herself as well.
“I’m so happy, going home with two Olympic gold medals and a couple of titles under my belt,” Douglas said. “I’m so happy for Aly, she deserves to be up on that podium. She had a great beam routine and I’m so proud of her.”
“I’m definitely not going to lie. It was definitely hard to regain your focus,” Douglas said. “You’re like, ‘Yes, I’m the Olympic champion. I’m a world champion.’ It’s definitely kind of hard to turn the chapter for event finals.
“It’s pretty exciting, but we have to learn to plug it in and unplug it,” she said. “I’ve been getting a lot of rest, but sometimes you can’t sleep because you’re either tossing and turning or it’s too hot in the rooms or stuff like that.”
Looking forward to the future, Gabby is ready to come back to the United States and meet her new fans.
“There’s gonna be parades,” she said. “It’s gonna be insane, but I’m ready for it. I made the history books.”