As America Celebrates Gabby Douglas’ Historic Gymnastics Gold, We Salute Her Mom (UPDATE)

UPDATE: Gabby Douglas placed first in the women’s gymnastics individual all-around competition, making her the first African American woman to win Olympic gold in the international competition. We couldn’t be more proud of this young lady. Thank you for representing yourself, your family, Americans and African Americans lovely! We’re absolutely Gabby Gaga!

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.

Baby steps.

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!


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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.


  1. Victoria Sanders

    A huge congrats to Gabby and her mom, Natalie. And another to you Miss Dee for allowing Mari to soar!

  2. Nice salute. It’s good to remember that none of the Olympic athletes could have done it on their own, without support, resources and sacrifices from family, friends and coaches.

    It seems to me that letting go like Gabby’s mom did is the best possible way of showing a “mother’s unyielding love, guidance and support.” Hovering and holding her physically close is not necessarily the same as truly supporting your child and her dreams. Letting go is brave, selfless, and it’s how kids learn that you trust them and believe in their choices and their abilities; without that opportunity, how would they ever learn to trust themselves as they venture out into the world for real?

  3. Thank you for this…trying to get “my brown baby” back in to competing again…she decided to quit 6 months ago…I will use this as inspiration to keep, keep, keeping on…

  4. GREAT SALUTE!!! This is definitely a made for TV Historical moment. Many good things happen in our history because of sacrifice and faith. Both exhibited here as proof!

    Very happy for Gabby and her family who showed the courage to do this.
    And no one knows the end result, but the results help to heel her mom from pulling her own hair day and night thinking about her daughter across the country and her decision.

    So thank YOU for adding to this historical moment and adding to breaking down barriers and stereotypes that in many ways we have placed on ourselves as well.

    May God continue to bless you all!

  5. I’m not sure if you’ve ever been to IOWA. We are definately, as you said, one of the whitest states in the union, but yet, we are one of the most accepting and friendly states in the union!! While some think of us as white cornfield conservatives, the simple truth is we appreciate anyone – no matter race, gender, or sexual orientation – that are downright good, hardworking people!

    Kudos to Gabby, her family and her host family for making her dream a reality. I’m proud to have been born and raised in Iowa. I’m proud to be able to say we share an Olympian with our Nation and the World – because we welcomed her and her dream – and I’m proud, that for just a moment, Gabby showed others that GOOD people care and live in Iowa!

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