The Game-Changing Words That Helped Gabby Douglas Win A Gold Medal

Written by Leigh Weingus

Photo by Getty

Gabby Douglas isn't your average 21-year-old. Since making the decision to move away from her family to pursue her career as an Olympic gymnast at the age of 14, Gabby has been fully immersed in the world of competitive gymnastics—and she has a gold medal to show for it.

"I just remember standing on the podium and thinking, wow, all the hard work and all the sacrifice paid off," she says with a smile that makes it clear that the victory is still sinking in. From a packed room in midtown Manhattan, where she was addressing energetic teenagers from local high schools, she elaborated in a hushed voice on the unique experience of winning Olympic gold. "And it’s so funny; I did gymnastics for 10 years, and all it took was one minute and 30 seconds to take home the gold. When I got the medal I just kept thinking, It’s over? The competition’s really over?"

A year after her victory at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Gabby is as down-to-earth as ever. "Honestly, the first thing I did after winning was go to training the next day. I just kept going," she says. "It was straight into media. We flew to LA to The Jay Leno Show, then to New York to do a lot of press with the team." But Gabby makes sure to take little moments to celebrate because her accomplishment took a tremendous amount of hard work.

"I don't care if you fall."

In all her years of training, Gabby has heard her fair share of horror stories about coaches. "Some coaches will say, 'Don't you dare fall.' It's scary!" she says. Luckily, her coach couldn't be more different—and she attributes a lot of her success to his calm, low-pressure demeanor. "My coach always tells me to enjoy the moment," she says. "Because how many people get to experience the Olympics? I remember he said, ‘I don’t even care if you fall. Fall seven times; I don't care. As long as I know you’re putting in the effort.’ I love that about him. He just said, 'Go out and enjoy it.'"

But Gabby doesn't just rely on her coach's voice when she's in the moment—she has her own personal mantras she lives by. "I tell myself, 'I can do this. I’ve trained,'" she says. "And even though my coach has told me it's OK if I fall, that's not exactly how I'm going into it. It's more saying to myself, "It’s OK if I fall, as long as I move on and don’t make the same mistake again." And if you make that mistake, make the rest of the routine solid. Whenever I’ve fallen, I’ve used it as motivation to get back in the gym and make sure it doesn't happen again."

Recovery, visualization, and gold medal moments.

While a decent chunk of Gabby's life is consumed by training and competition, she still has some downtime—and she makes sure to use it for recovery and activities that fill her with joy. "I hang out with friends, I do visualizations, I get a massage, do an ice bath, or just kick back and relax," she says of her days off.

And luckily, somewhere in the chaos, it hits her that she's an Olympic gold medalist—like when a Gabby Douglas Barbie doll hit the market. "It was amazing to be part of that process," she says. "I got to pick out her clothing, what she looked like, her hair texture—that was a major gold medal moment."

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What's next?

As an Olympic gymnast with a packed schedule, upcoming competitions and the 2020 Olympics are consistently on Gabby's mind. But when she's not training, she does her part to make sure she's empowering young people and encouraging them to chase their dreams.

"I just spent some time talking to kids about how to set goals and make them stick now that it's almost back-to-school season," she says of an event she did with Post-it Brand at Publicolor earlier in the afternoon. "I didn’t know you’re 42 percent more likely to achieve your goals when you write them down until recently, so I encouraged them to do so. I invited them to write their own goals on a vision board, and they seemed to have fun with it. That was a great feeling."

Inspired by Gabby's story? Read about the woman who competed in her 60th Ironman while pregnant, and learn about a woman who is training to be the first female Navy SEAL ever.

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