Gabby Douglas

Gabby Douglas (Photo Credit: Flickr Commons/Nplitdept)

*This has been an awe-inspiring season.

The 2012 Summer Olympics is the reason I attribute to the season.

The stories of triumph over travail, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat is the stuff that inspiration is made of. The blood, sweat and tears are part of what makes elite completion elite. The insights into the sacrifice, faith and support required in this Olympic journey have been absolutely stunning.

Yes I am a fan of the Summer Olympic Games.

Archery. Badminton. Basketball. Beach Volleyball. Boxing. Canoeing. Cycling. Diving. Equestrian. Fencing. Field hockey. Gymnastics. Handball. Judo. Modern Pentathlon. Rowing. Sailing. Shooting. Soccer. Swimming. Synchronized swimming. Table tennis. Taekwondo. Tennis. Track and field. Triathlon. Volleyball. Water Polo. Weight lifting. Wrestling.

With 30 different sports, 204 nations and over 10,000 athletes competing for coveted medals, there is something for everyone to watch.

I’ve been staying up way past my bed time watching the various competitions at odd hours of the night then stumbling into work the next morning blurry-eyed and lack luster.

With this Olympic Games as with all of them, the darlings emerge, the crème floats to the top. This time it’s 16-year-old gymnast Gabby Douglas, a beautiful and spirited African American young woman. She’s made history during these games. Gabby is the first African American gymnast and first woman of color in Olympic history to become the individual all-around champion, and the first American gymnast to win gold in both the individual all-around and team competitions at the same Olympics. Go Gabby!

Her performance has been headline grabbing. Sadly media has stubbed and fumbled repeatedly and at will in covering her brilliant Olympic journey and her critics have been stealth in deflecting from her accomplishments. From calling her a “flying squirrel” to personifying her smile as if it were an inanimate object to then airing a commercial featuring a monkey on gymnastic rings following her receiving the Gold Medal for the women’s individual all-around gymnastics competition – it’s been a snafu of bad judgment by highly paid media professionals and money (monkey)  making networks.

She has the most amazing back story. Raised by a single mom who nurtured her daughter’s passion for gymnastics, she made a difficult decision two years ago to let her then 14-year-old Gabby move to Des Moines, Idaho and live with a white host family to train with a noted coach for the upcoming 2012 Olympic Games. Whew – that alone leaves me speechless not to mention the thought of what that must have been like for Gabby socially, spiritually and culturally. I can’t fathom it.

What I can fathom is what is takes to be a gymnast. I dabbled in gymnastics in high school and took classes for a few years while I was there. My short time trying to gain a level of competency on the balance beam, volt, uneven bars and floor exercising was trying. It tested every fiber of my spirit, determination and self esteem. It was damn hard but challenging and exhilarating. The sense of accomplishment I felt when I could stick a landing or hit my marks was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. Just watching Gabby took me back to the mat and the beam. The sense of pride and adoration I felt in what this young woman has been able to accomplish stirred my soul and channeled my inner gymnast. She accomplished a dream that many young women have had, including myself though it was further fetched than Mars. But today, some young African American girl in Somewhere, U.S.A. can point to Gabby and say I want to do that.

Gabby said in many interviews that her road to Olympic Gold was filled with blood, sweat and tears. And she’s absolutely right figuratively and literally.  It’s the sweat that has been at the center of the latest controversy surrounding her hair. Critics have been merciless in talking about how awful it looks, that it’s not neat and they have levied jabs at her wearing pens and gel to hold it in place. Shamefully, those critics are people from her own tribe. Yet in a show of solidarity her team mates worn pens and gel in their hair to affirm their support of Gabby. What a message, but the comments didn’t stop.

Her coach was quoted as saying “at this level in her career hair is somewhat secondary.” Bravo. He’s right and offered brilliant insight as a member from another tribe so to speak. As a former gymnastic I know the beating your hair can take in the name of optimal performance.  To be honest I didn’t notice her hair and when I did I marveled at how well she kept it in place with all the tumbling and spinning that’s required. I could have taken a tip or two from her because my hair not only got thrashed it looked thrashed too.

Bless her mother who tried to offer a reason or excuse for Gabby’s hair not winning public approval citing that Gabby lived in Iowa with a white host family and there were no black hair salons in the area. Mom, no excuses needed just a rigorous, good old fashion “dig your heels in deep defense” of your daughter, her sacrifice and her accomplishments is enough if you feel compelled to respond at all.  I get it. To hell with everyone else who throws darts and spears. The criticism has been unconscionable and has played nicely into the media’s never ending quest to highlight dissention and engage in distraction to diminish another historic moment of an African American.

I won’t let this Olympic gab eclipse this Olympic moment. Go Gabby – but baby don’t go gently into the night.

Veronica Hendrix is a syndicated columnist and feature writer whose work has covered the span of the human continuum – from clinical trials of male contraceptives, to the gang violence. She is the owner of Bromont Avenue Foods. She is the author of “Red Velvet Gourmet Spice Rub and Seasoning Heart Healthy Recipes.” Visit http://bromontavefoods.com for more information.  For comments, interviews, speaking engagements or moderator requests please send an email to [email protected].

veronica hendrix

Veronica Hendrix