As America Celebrates Team USA’s Gymnastics Gold, We Salute Gabby Douglas’ Mom
by Denene Millner
As America celebrates the Olympic gold medal win of our women’s gymnastics team and my two pretty brown girls go absolutely ga-ga over African American gymnast phenom Gabrielle “Gabby” Douglas, today I’m tossing up a MyBrownBaby salute to Natalie Hawkins, Gabby’s mom.
True, her daughter is the one who is out there leaving her blood, sweat, tears and heart on the mat, slaying routines that have earned her a place at the head of the 2012 U.S. Olympics team dubbed the “Fab Five.” But it is Gabby’s mother, a Virginia Beach, VA, single mom of four girls, who deserves praise for the courageous decision that made Glorious Gabby Gold possible: two years ago, when Gabby was just 14-years-old, Hawkins sent her daughter to Iowa to train with a new coach and live with a family full of strangers so that she’d have a better shot at making it to the Olympics.
You read that right: just when her baby girl was making her slow march into womanhood, just when a teenage girl is grappling with finding her emotional, mental and physical mettle, just when a girlchild most needs her mother’s unyielding love, guidance and support, Hawkins sent her child away to live with a family she didn’t know, to work under the tutelage of a trainer she’d worked with only once, in a state she’d never visited before—clear on the other side of the country, about as far away from family and friends that her daughter could possibly get.
Hawkins’ motives were pure: in order to let Gabby spread her wings, she had to let her daughter fly. She admits that letting go was no easy feat.
“Worst, gut-wrenching decision I have ever made in my entire life,” Hawkins told Yahoo’s Fourth-Place Medal. “Lost sleep, lost hair, earned a few grays, I cried. I went through the whole gamut of emotions, I was angry, and then I came to a place of resolve. I said, ‘OK, Natalie, you have this one chance to get this right. You mess this up, it’s not going to come around again. This is gymnastics.’”
Indeed, Hawkins, who, according to the Virginian Pilot, is a divorcee who’s struggled on disability as she’s worked to provide for her family, only agreed to let Gabby go to Iowa to train at Chow’s Gymnastics after Gabby begged and her other daughters made the case for why it was a good idea. There are grumblings that Gabby’s original coaches are ticked off that another trainer is getting all the shine for an athlete they “created,” but this makes me no nevermind: despite which trainer did what, Gabby is Natalie Hawkins’ child and she deserves top credit for giving her baby girl the support she needed not only to excel in her sport, but make it to the winner’s podium at the Olympics.
Turns out she made a sound decision.
I’m not so sure I would have been able to do the same. I mean, I have three kid athletes: a college football player who, in high school, played out our family’s own personal version of Friday Night Lights as he killed it on the field and in the classroom, an effort that earned him a generous scholarship to Lafayette College; a middle-schooler who’s competed with all her heart and mind in track, soccer, swimming and softball; and a fifth-grader on one of the state’s top soccer teams for her age group, where she balls harder than Jay-Z and Kanye on a champagne run in Paris. I have a hard enough time letting my children ride to a game with fellow teammates; we don’t miss a practice, game or team event out of fear of leaving them alone, out of fear of letting them take the field without being able to see us on the sidelines, cheering them on, confident that we got them. That’s what sports parents do: we cheer, bite our nails, nurse injuries, give pep talks, chauffeur, go broke, worry and pray for our babies as they put their bodies and minds through a rigorous journey full of awesome wins and heartbreaking defeats. We are there for our children. I absolutely can not fathom sending my babies to one of the whitest states in the union, sans family and friends, to be trained and raised by people I don’t know, to do the job that I was made for, for winning’s sake.
No judgment. Just sayin’.
I’d like to point out, though, that I am learning to let go just a little bit. This summer, for the first time in her 13 years on this here Earth, I let my daughter, Mari, go to both sleep-away camp and, just four days after she returned, a 10-day vacation with two of her best girlfriends. The child was gone for basically the entire month of July. After never having spent so much as a weekend away from home without at least one of her parents with her.
At any rate, congrats to the U.S. women’s gymnastics team and especially to Gabby Douglas, who represented lovely at the 2012 Olympics and made all of our hearts absolutely swell with pride. But no one could be more thrilled this morning than Natalie Hawkins, an elite mom who made an elite sacrifice for her elite daughter. Salute!