There is a reason cliches become cliché. Some things people just keep repeating. Such was the case at the Orlando County Thursday night as 600 plus parents and kids packed the atrium to the point of standing room only capacity. All were there to see Olympic Gold Medalist Gabrielle Douglas, as she made her sixth stop on the “Grace, Gold, & Glory” book tour.
The book is a memoir detailing the challenges faced, and sacrifices made by Douglas on her way to becoming the first African-American female to win all around Gold at the Olympics. Reggie Smothers arrived with nine-year old daughter, Zakaria, at two o’clock, four hours before the 6pm start time, to be sure of meeting the Olympian. They were the first in line. Opposite them in a line specifically for non-library members, a mother of two had driven two hours to make sure her daughter would meet their gymnastic idol. It is a testament to both the little-publicized popularity of young gymnasts and Douglas’s own popularity that both lines snaked backward until reaching the opposite end of the library.
Douglas’s mother, Natalie Hawkins, still has not gotten used to the response to her daughter. “Right after she won, people would get out of their cars in the middle of the street to run and take a picture with her. But even at the signing in Virginia (months after her win) we had 700 people show up. 600 at the next stop. And tonight this is the strongest response it seems yet. We feel blessed.”
One can only imagine what it must feel like to see young girls and adults alike crowed into a room, and chanting your name. At one point a chant of “Gabby,” “Gabby,” “Gabby,” reverberated through the library book stacks, followed by the crowd singing Happy Birthday, after the publisher of Grace, Gold, & Glory announced Douglas’s upcoming birthday on December 31.
Douglas took it in stride, commenting more than once in her Q&A session that she felt blessed and appreciated those that she has inspired. One rather poignant question was about how Dominique Dawes had inspired Douglas. “Dominique was my inspiration when I was growing up. And after I won I saw later on television Dominique crying.”
When speaking about being the first African-American female to win the all around Gold, Douglas clearly understands the significance, saying, “I’m glad I can be an inspiration for others because I know there are not a lot of black girls in gymnastics.”
The crowd yelled loudly when city officials mentioned the historic win as Orlando County Mayor Teresa Jacobs and city Commissioner Samuel Ings each presented Douglas with keys to the city. To the credit of the crowd, and the country at large, the response from the crowd was twice as loud simply for Douglas being Douglas. Not one color or ethnic group stood out. At one point the sheer number of people made things get a little chaotic, but the young girls (and some boys) took it all in stride because they loved Douglas for being a great gymnast, and an American gold medal winner. The fact that she happens to be black is more important to the historians than her fans.
The best question of the night came from Brittany who asked: “Were you scared the first time you got on the uneven bars, cause I’m scared.”
With the brilliant smile that has become as much her signature as her tumbling skills, Gabby responded, “Yes there first time I was on them I was scared. But, I knew I could do it. And so can you. You can do it, just go out there and have fun. Don’t let fear stop you.”
That is perhaps the best lesson anyone; young or old can learn from America’s new sweet heart.