Gabrielle Douglas is not a typical teenager. At just 16, Gabby is headed to the 2012 Olympic Games in London, vying for multiple gold medals as part of the U.S. women’s gymnastics team. Earning the nickname “Flying Squirrel” due to her natural skill on the uneven bars, she’s not the first person in her family to fly through the air.
Gabby, like millions of others in the United States, is a military kid. Her father, SSgt Timothy Douglas, has been deployed overseas three times with the Air National Guard. The first deployment to Iraq in 2003 was an adjustment for the family, and while it prepared them for his second deployment in 2006, they also had some help from the national nonprofit organization Our Military Kids.
Our Military Kids provides grants to children who have a parent deployed overseas with the National Guard and Reserves. Grants pay for a child’s participation in activities like sports, fine arts, and tutoring programs to help them stay focused on the positive as they cope with the difficulties of deployment.
Gabby received her grant to attend a gymnastics camp in Texas with renowned coaches Bela and Marta Karolyi. According to her mother, Natalie Hawkins, the grant couldn’t have come at a better time.
“Gymnastics is an expensive sport, and the grant from Our Military Kids was a financial blessing,” said Hawkins. “Gabby had just entered into elite gymnastics, and this camp gave her the opportunity to train with gymnasts on the U.S. team.”
Without the $500 grant, it would have put further financial strain on the family during an already difficult time. Being able to attend the invitation-only camp gave Gabby the opportunity to shape the future of her gymnastic career.
“When I received the grant, I was so honored and happy,” Gabby said. “I know I speak for all military kids when I say thank you for making this fund available to help us pursue our dreams!”
Gabby has gone on to do just that. She made the move from her hometown of Virginia Beach, Va., to Des Moines, Iowa, to train with Liang Chow, the same coach who trained Olympian Shawn Johnson for the 2008 Beijing games. The training paid off Sunday night when she placed first in the Olympic trials and was granted an automatic bid to the London games.
As she prepared for a potential Olympic bid, Gabby’s family raised money so they could make the trip to London. Gabby and her mother decided if she didn’t make the team, all of the money raised would be donated to Our Military Kids.
“In the grand scheme of things, $500 may not seem like that much money, but it made the difference between keeping Gabby at home and sending her to a camp that would play a part in molding her into the Olympic gymnast she is today,” said Hawkins.
While not all of Our Military Kids’ grant recipients will go on to become Olympic athletes, the impact of the grants is no less.
“When a parent deploys with the National Guard or Reserves, many times they leave a family behind in a non-military community, far from resources that could help the kids cope with that separation,” said Linda Davidson, Executive Director of Our Military Kids. “Getting a grant from Our Military Kids allows these children to participate in activities that interest them, keeping their minds off of the fact that mom or dad is serving our country in a war zone while ensuring their physical and mental fitness.
“Our Military Kids is extremely proud of what Gabby has been able to achieve,” Davidson continued. “Her commitment to the sport and determination to succeed serve as an inspiration to the millions of other military children who hope to follow their dreams.”