Gabby Douglas: I Had A Job To Do In London
CELESTE HEADLEE, HOST:
It was an iconic moment, really one of those amazing Olympic moments when a brilliantly smiling Gabby Douglas became the first African-American gymnast to win a gold medal in the individual all-around. People were amazed as she twisted her petite frame and flew through the air with both power and grace. It was the second gold for Douglas. She and her teammates won the team gold medal as well, and since then Gabby Douglas and the rest of the Fabulous Five have become celebrities.
And Gabby Douglas joins us now. Welcome, and once again, congratulations.
GABRIELLE DOUGLAS: Thank you.
HEADLEE: So does it seem surreal to you at this point?
DOUGLAS: It does. I mean sometimes it feels like a dream and I'm just like, oh my gosh, did this really happen? And yes, it did, but man, it's just been amazing so far.
HEADLEE: And part of that is that your schedule has been packed since the London Olympics the past summer. You've been on the late night talk shows. You met First Lady Michelle Obama. That must have been exciting. And you've got some major endorsements, including this video game from Nintendo. So how much time did you spend training for the Olympics and how much time actually on video gaming?
DOUGLAS: Well, I spent my, like, whole life training for the 2012 London Olympic Games, but I've always played Nintendo. I remember one time my mom got me and my siblings a Wii for Christmas, so I just remember we were playing "Rock Band" and we're just going, going, playing, playing, having a blast till like 6:00 in the morning, and I'm such a big fan of Nintendo.
HEADLEE: Which instrument did you play on "Rock Band"?
DOUGLAS: I played the drums. I am so good at the drums. And my brother plays the guitar and either my sisters or my mom sings.
HEADLEE: All right.
DOUGLAS: Sometimes I sing, but I'm really good at the drums.
HEADLEE: All right. So stepping away from your video game prowess, you're from Virginia Beach.
HEADLEE: But you lived with a host family in Des Moines, Iowa for the last two years while you were working with your coach. That had to have been an amazing sacrifice, not just for yourself but for your family as well. How do you handle that at the age of 14?
DOUGLAS: Yeah. It was a sacrifice, not only on my part, but on everyone's part, and I learned to just mature over the years and I knew I had a dream and - I wanted to accomplish, so I knew if I had a chance to go to the Olympics - not only going, just going and doing it big and just having the time of my life. So I knew I had that chance, so I had to move away and just get better coaching.
HEADLEE: But how was that for your parents? I mean the relationship with your parents - that must have been tough for them. And at the age of 14, to feel like they're not with you every day, guiding you and raising you.
DOUGLAS: Yeah. It was definitely tough for my mom and my siblings to let me go and just see me off and just move away, but at the end of the road, they're all so proud of me and so happy - what I accomplished, and it's just such a thrilling experience for me.
HEADLEE: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Celeste Headlee. We're talking with Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas. And many, many people compare your team - the Fab Five they call them - to the U.S. Women's Gymnastics Team of 1996. You were only a year old, I think, when 1996 team was known to many as the Magnificent Seven. You've been compared to Dominique Dawes and Mary Lou Retton, and I heard - you can correct me if I'm wrong - I heard that Mary Lou Retton actually gave you a little advice about how to handle the celebrity. What was her advice to you?
DOUGLAS: She just told me that - it hasn't really hit me yet - until you got home. So just be prepared when you get home and there's going to be so many people at the airport, but have a great time because they love and support you for so long, so just go home. Just hug everyone because it's just an amazing feeling.
HEADLEE: And - well, sometimes it can be not amazing. Right? I mean, what about all the things when you got home that maybe surprised you that they were negative? I mean, I know there was a lot of spotlight on your hair, which we don't have to go into now, but I understand you had to get a celebrity - well, I say, had to get a celebrity stylist. Maybe that was by choice.
DOUGLAS: Well, I didn't really focus on the hair thing because I knew I had a job to do in London, so I didn't want to focus on the negative because there were so many positive things going on around here on this side. So it didn't even phase me, really.
HEADLEE: Well, that's amazing. But I wonder if you and Mary Lou Retton also talked about what comes next. You know, for a young gymnast - and Olympic gymnasts are young. Right? Your time as an athlete is pretty short and then you have to think about what comes for the rest of your life. So did you talk about that?
DOUGLAS: No, we did not.
HEADLEE: So what do you think? I mean, do you have plans for what happens after you're not the flying squirrel?
DOUGLAS: Yeah. I think everyone has their own goals and what they want to accomplish, but after my Olympic career or my gymnastics career, I think I'm going to go into acting.
HEADLEE: And maybe vying for a role on "Vampire Diaries"?
DOUGLAS: That could be possible.
HEADLEE: So you're a role model. I mean, you know that. Lots of girls look up to you. I wonder if you - you probably get emails and text messages or letters all the time from them. What advice do you give them? Or are you even at that point?
DOUGLAS: I just want to say to all my fans, thank you so much for supporting me and just loving me. I mean, I couldn't have done it without my fans either. I mean, they're so important just to cheer you on all the way, and if you're a little down, they just support you, send you letters, and just everything. They're amazing.
HEADLEE: I mean, you must have a number of African-American girls as well that look up to you and see you as really what you are, a historical figure. I mean, what do you say to young African-American girls who may be thinking, that could never be me?
DOUGLAS: Well, I don't know. Anything's possible, so I would say don't sell yourself short and don't cut yourself out because anything is possible if you set your mind to it, and if you have a dream you want to accomplish, I say go after it 100 percent. Don't let anything or anyone stop you.
HEADLEE: Do you have this sense of yourself as sort of a historical figure for African-Americans?
DOUGLAS: Yeah. It hasn't really hit me yet, though. I'm still wrapping my brain around it.
HEADLEE: It kind of sounds like you're wrapping your brain around a lot, Gabby, and I don't blame you. What's the hardest part? Or have you come to the hard part yet? Is it all kind of fast moving lights?
DOUGLAS: I think the hardest part for me was going through the hard days, just - in the gym, just - when you go through the hard days and I think you could just cruise along and I think you could get to any days.
HEADLEE: Are you going to be in the next Olympics?
DOUGLAS: I'm going to plan for that.
HEADLEE: You are going to plan for it?
HEADLEE: And then you'd have two Olympics and then your Olympic career would be done?
HEADLEE: And so now that you're a celebrity, you're America's sweetheart, what's the one thing you want to use that celebrity to get? What's the one thing you want to do now that you are somebody? You are the A list.
DOUGLAS: Hmm. I have no idea, actually. I would have to think about that.
HEADLEE: Really? You haven't even spent a moment thinking, I want dinner with George Clooney or Justin Bieber?
DOUGLAS: Well, there's so many things in life and I want to live life to the fullest and I kind of want to give back and give back to the people that love and supported me, and I want to be a blessing on other people.
HEADLEE: Well, I think you're already that, but I also heard you want a brand new car. You're 16 years old. You've got a - you have a driver's license you want to try out. Right?
HEADLEE: What kind of car?
DOUGLAS: Either an Acura or a Range Rover.
HEADLEE: OK. What color?
DOUGLAS: Maybe black.
HEADLEE: All right. We want to get a picture of you in your new black Acura.
HEADLEE: Gabby Douglas, Olympic gold medalist in women's gymnastics, kind enough to join us on a busy morning in New York. Gabby Douglas, thank you so much.
DOUGLAS: No problem. Thank you.