Gabby Douglas gives warm aloha to JBPHH

Members of the 8th Intelligence Squadron (8 IS) pose with Gabby Douglas. Clockwise, Senior Airman Mariah Whittaker, Douglas, Senior Airman Marissa Toppin and Senior Airman Tariq Armstrong.

Story and photos by Randy Dela Cruz

Sports Editor, Ho‘okele

At more than 200 strong, members of the crowd welcoming Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam were treated like they were the stars. The athletic wunderkind personally greeted everyone during a meet-and-greet Jan. 12 at Bloch Arena, courtesy of Morale, Welfare and Recreation and United Service Organizations (USO).

Douglas at the age of 16 became the first African-American to win the gold medal in the gymnastics all-around individual event at the 2012 Summer Olympics. She answered questions during a question-and-answer session with the audience before embracing military families who lined up to meet the sports icon for autographs and selfies.

Douglas may have been the star at the event, but she said that it wasn’t hard for her to put the military in the spotlight — especially since it’s the armed forces that keep us safe.

Gabby Douglas takes questions from the audience at Bloch Arena.

“It’s so funny because different moms and dads are like thank you so much for doing this. It’s really amazing,” Douglas said. “But for me, I can’t wrap my head around it. I’m like, ‘who am I?’ I just won a couple of gold medals, but you guys are doing all the work. So I look at it that way.”

Budding gymnast 10-year-old Jaida Morris, who was brought to meet Douglas by her mother Nicole, said that the opportunity to rub elbows with her hero was a dream come true.

Not only did Morris get to ask Douglas the first question during the question-and-answer session, she stood in awe as she shook hands and posed for a picture with her idol.

“I can’t explain it, but it made me feel like it was a magical moment,” she said. “I look up to her when I do gymnastics. Sometimes I feel like I can’t do it, but then I think of her and she inspires me.”

Jaida Morris, age 10, asks a question to her idol Gabby Douglas.

While the little ones were starstruck and mesmerized to be around Douglas, the two-time Olympian also impressed the many moms and dads in attendance.

Douglas took her time with each child as she offered words of encouragement, a hug and a cheerful smile.

“Gabby has been her (Jaida’s) idol since the beginning,” Nicole said. “I’m glad that she (Douglas) came here to Hawaii, so that she (Jaida) had the opportunity to meet her, give her a hug. I know that’s something that she’s going to remember for the rest of her life.”

Natalie Hawkins, Douglas’ mom, accompanied her daughter on the USO trip. She has been a familiar face at many of the gymnast’s visits around the world.

Hawkins said that her daughter’s warm approach in engaging people is something that comes naturally to her and is part of her enthusiasm for life and others.

“Her personality has always been so lively and so energetic,” Hawkins said. “She’s always been a go-getter. So when she officially entered the sport of gymnastics, it was the perfect fit.”

Like other celebrities who have appeared at JBPHH, Douglas said that coming to such a historic location as Pearl Harbor is both powerful and moving at the same time.

Knowing how much sacrifice it takes to defend our country, she said that spending a little time with military families is something that she is more than happy to do.

While she said that it can be a lot of pressure to live up to her role as an athlete in the center of public and media attention, it all comes down to being herself.

“It is a lot of pressure that so many kids, moms, dads look up to you,” she said. “But for me, I don’t stress myself out. I just go out there and just show the kids and moms my personality because I’m fun, bubbly and I keep it light and fun.”

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Category: Life & Leisure