Gabby Douglas was born on December 31, 1995, in Virginia Beach, Virginia to Timothy Douglas and Natalie Hawkins. Her first experience with gymnastics came at the age of three when she perfected a straight cartwheel using a technique that she learned from her older sister, Arielle, a former gymnast. By age four, Gabby had taught herself how to do a one-handed cartwheel. At the age of 6, Gabby was allowed to begin taking formal gymnastics classes. Only two years later, in 2004, she was named a Virginia State Gymnastics Champion.
When Gabby turned 14, she left her hometown and family, and moved to West Des Moines, Iowa, to train with renowned coach Liang Chow, known for molding American gymnast Shawn Johnson into a world champion and Olympic gold medalist. Travis and Missy Parton volunteered to be Douglas’ host family in West Des Moines.
Gabby made her debut on the national scene in 2010 at the Nastia Liukin SuperGirl Cup, placing fourth all-around. She also placed third on the balance beam, sixth on vault and ninth all-around in the junior division of her first elite meet, the 2010 CoverGirl Classic in Chicago, Illinois. Gabby went on to win the silver medal on balance beam and fourth all-around at the 2010 U.S. Junior National Championships, and then took the uneven bars title at the 2010 Pan American Championships. Her performance at that event also placed Douglas at fifth all-around and her performance helped the U.S. team win the gold medal.
Gabby was a member of the U.S. team that won the gold medal in the team finals at the 2011 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Tokyo, Japan. She also won the 2012 Olympic Trials, which took place in San Jose, California, and was selected as a member of the national team that represented the United States at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Gabby is the first African American to make the U.S. Olympic women’s gymnastics team since Dawes in 2000. Gabby’s high-flying skills and high difficulty score on bars not only likened her to Dominique Dawes but caught the attention of U.S. women’s national team coordinator Martha Karoyli, who nicknamed her “Flying Squirrel.”
At the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, Gabby and other members of the U.S. Olympic women’s gymnastics team — Kyla Ross, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman and Jordyn Wieber — took home a team gold medal. Fans worldwide watched as judges announced the team’s medal win — the first gold medal for the American women’s gymnastics team since 1996.
Gabby went on to compete in the individual all-around and became the first African American to win gold in the prestigious event. Following her two golds, she competed in the individual uneven bars and individual beam events, but failed to medal in either, placing eighth and seventh, respectively. By 2012, 16-year-old Gabby had proven herself a champion, going from underdog to Olympian in a short time. She was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated in early July of 2012, along with the rest of the U.S. Olympic women’s gymnastics team, and on one of five covers released by TIME Magazine that same month. She was also a featured Olympian on Kellogg’s special edition box of Wheaties corn flakes.
Gabby did not compete in 2014 but returned to international competition in 2015. She placed 4th all-around at the 2015 City of Jesolo Trophy, second in the all-around at the U.S. Classic and 5th overall in the P&G Championships. She was named to the Senior National Team and was selected for the 2015 U.S. Women’s World Championship team. She also won silver in the all-around at the 2015 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Glasgow, Scotland.
At the Olympic trials in July 2016, Gabby finished seventh, after two falls from the balance beam. Regardless, she earned a spot on the 2016 Olympic team, with fellow gymnasts Simone Biles, Laurie Hernandez, Madison Kocian, and Raisman, to become the first reigning all-around Olympic champion to return to compete in a second Olympic Games since Nadia Comaneci in 1980. She and teammate Raisman, also a member of the gold medal-winning team in 2012, were the first American women gymnasts to return to the Olympics since Dawes and Amy Chow in 2000. On August 9, 2016, Gabby helped the U.S. women’s gymnastics team grab the gold again with her impressive performance on the uneven bars. Gabby shared the team gold with Biles, Raisman, Hernandez and Kocian, a team that called themselves “The Final Five.” The Final Five became the third American women’s gymnastics team to win gold, following team victories in 1996 and 2012.
Gabby released her autobiography Grace, Gold, and Glory: My Leap of Faith in 2012. The Gabby Douglas Story, a TV movie about the gymnast’s life, aired on Lifetime in 2014. Douglas Family Gold, a reality TV show following Gabby and her family, premiered on the Oxygen channel in 2016. On July 11, 2016, the day after she was named to the Olympic team, Gabby Douglas debuted her new Barbie Shero doll.