How Prayer Paved the Way to Olympic Gold for Gabby Douglas

Like all Olympic athletes, Gabby Douglas’ road to the Olympics was paved with determination, hard work and sacrifice. But it was more than that. Gabby’s journey was laid on a foundation of God’s Word and prayer.

“If you go back on the footage on any competition, you'll see my lips moving and I'm praying,” smiled Gabby. “And I remember when I fell and I said, ‘oh, it’s because I didn’t pray,’ I fell because I didn’t pray!” she laughed. “I would take it very seriously.”

She learned how to pray from her mother, Natalie. In fact, when Gabby was born, she was sickly and couldn’t keep food down. Natalie, a mother of four, couldn’t afford a doctor or medicine and had only one option.

Natalie said, “I remember literally staying up at night praying for her and saying Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.”

Then Gabby started gaining weight and became a healthy, happy baby.

 I mean, there's no other explanation as to how she miraculously recovered,” Natalie said with a gleam in her eyes. “And she just grew into the amazing, strong child that she is.”

As Gabby found her passion in gymnastics she spent hours in training. But it was expensive and Natalie couldn’t afford all of her children’s pursuits. Then, Gabby’s two older sisters decided to give up their activities so their sister could pursue her Olympic dreams.At first, Natalie wouldn’t have it.

“How, as a parent, am I going to allow my other children to give up their dreams and their passions just to help support the dreams and passion of one? And I struggled with that for a long time,” revealed Natalie.

“And it was my kids really that set me free.” Natalie continued, “And they said, ‘You know, Mom, we want to do this. We want to see her achieve her goals. And we feel like we'll get there too, but right now, this is her time.’"

Natalie knew the road ahead would not be an easy one. So she made prayer and Bible study a priority. Gabby says those foundations kept her on track in her most difficult times.

“I remember at 2011 Visa Championships and before that I had hurt my hamstring. Well my mom said, ‘when you're hurt, meditate.’  So I did, kept quoting, ‘by His stripes I am healed.’ And then I went to the competition and I did really bad. I remember walking back to the hotel room and I was like, ‘Where was God?’  Like ‘why?’ I thought He failed me. I'm like, "Where was He?  He wasn't out for me. He wasn't there.’"          

“And my mom said, ‘I don't know what happened tonight, but I know God has a plan for us.’”

“Then that year I made the 2011 World Championships and brought home a team gold medal and I think at that point my faith came into play. I really had to rely on the Bible and Jesus to bring me out of that hard situation.”

That wouldn’t be the last time. As the Olympic Trials approached Gabby moved to Des Moines, Iowa, to train. But the long hours and time away from family were taking a toll. 

“I got to a really dark place where I almost wanted to quit the sport of gymnastics, right before the Olympic Games,” admitted Gabby.

Natalie said emphasizing each word.  “And I said, ‘You cannot quit.  We've come too far. Too many people are on this journey now with us. So many people, other than ourselves, have sacrificed.’"

Gabby added, “I think that's when I had to rely on my faith the most. I went to the gym and said, “OK, if I’m going to the Olympics, I’m going to do it big.’ I prayed and meditated on scriptures. I went back to the gym and my coach said he saw this fire in my eyes.” 

With that Gabby and four teammates won the US Championship to qualify for the summer games in London. Most didn’t expect Gabby, nicknamed The Flying Squirrel, would soon make Olympic history.

“Yeah, I did have a lot of doubters,” Gabby smiled as she spoke. “They said, ‘Oh no, she's not going to make it. She’ll probably be mediocre but not on top.’"

“I didn't want to prove them wrong, but I wanted to prove myself right. I wanted to be like, ‘No, I can do this, and I will do it.’"

As the individual competition unfolded, Gabby rose to the top. Then, in her final event, she clinched the gold.

Natalie thought back and spoke with deep emotion.  “I lost it. It was a totally surreal feeling.  ‘Is this happening?  Can somebody pinch me to know that this is actually happening?’  And then I thought about all the things we’d gone through to get there; all of the years of sacrifice and all of the years of hard work.”

Gabby earned another gold when she and The Fierce Five, won the team competition.

“I mean, (there were) a lot of emotions. I was so happy. And I finally thought it was all worth it, all the years of sacrificing, injuries, difficult times, tough times, it all paid off,” beamed Gabby.

Even though the journey to her first Olympics is over, Gabby says prayer still keeps her grounded.  Now she’s looking ahead to 2016.

The family now lives in California where she and her siblings are all pursuing their dreams. And at 18, Gabby is as enthusiastic as ever.

“I want to accomplish another Olympics. I love gymnastics. I love competing, I love training, but after gymnastics, I don't know. I mean, the sky's the limit, so we'll see.”

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