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Olympian Gabby Douglas talks faith, forgiveness and matzo ball soup

By Adelle M. Banks
Religion News Service

Gabrielle Douglas, who walked away with the all-around gymnastic gold at the London Olympics, is out with her first book: “Grace, Gold & Glory: My Leap of Faith.” Douglas, who turns 17 on New Year’s Eve, talked about her prayer life, her love of matzo ball soup and overcoming homesickness to make it to the Olympics. The interview has been edited.

Q: Everyone knows you as a gold medal Olympic gymnast, but how do you define yourself as a young woman of faith?

Faith plays a very big role in my life. I don’t know where I would be without it today. I’ve always been praying for everything. And my mom always exposed me and my siblings to being a Christian and the Bible. I was watching back and looking at the Olympics and my mouth is moving – and that’s me praying.

Q: How did your faith get you through preparing for difficult gymnastic maneuvers like the uneven bars?

The Scriptures motivate me and I use them to help me overcome circumstances like practices and competitions. If I’m having trouble with a skill: “I can do all things in Christ that strengthens me.” Or sometimes I get a little nervous: “Do not fear; always believe.”

Q: You wrote that your family celebrated Hanukkah when you were 9, and that it has observed the Sabbath and you’ve enjoyed your mother’s matzo ball soup.

I really love matzo ball soup and I just had matzo ball soup recently and it’s just one of my favorite Jewish meals.

Q: Are you going back to church as an Olympic champion or an average churchgoer?

When I go back in church I’m just going to be that same old Gabby Douglas – just praise and worship and listening to the pastor preach. So, it’s not going to be any different.

Q: You lived with a church-going host family in Iowa. How did that come about?

God laid it on Travis (Parton), my host family dad. He was thinking about hosting a gymnast, and he wrote to (coach Liang) Chow and said “Chow, If there’s anyone that needs a break and they want to achieve their dreams, I’m opening up my house.”

Q: You spent close to two years living far from your family to train for the Olympics. You called it your leap of faith but you almost gave up on it. Why?

My mom and my siblings came to Iowa to celebrate Christmas with me. It went by so fast and they were ready to go home and pack up and leave and I was wanting to go home. I hadn’t been home for a while. I wanted to quit and leave the sport just because I was homesick.

Q: How did you overcome that?

My mom and my brother sat me down. They told me to keep fighting and keep pushing. They didn’t want me to come home as a quitter but they wanted me to come home as a champion. … They didn’t want me to have regret and they knew that I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t make the team. I was just determined to push myself.

Q: You’ve also faced criticism – from a former coach who thought you needed a nose job to people who questioned your hairstyle. How did you handle that?

The whole hair thing I don’t really focus on because I was at the Olympics. I was the first African-American to win the gold medal in all-around so I focused on that. The whole bullying part – nobody likes to be made fun of. It was very hard to overcome that and I was very hurt. Now I have a forgiving heart. I forgive them and I move on.

Q: What are your next steps?

Definitely I hope to attend (the Olympics in) Rio in 2016 and I think it will be wonderful if I can attend two Olympic games.

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